Welcome,

 

I'm Arthur Yudkevich and these are my tales. I write science fiction and fantasy stories.

My goal is to keep people reading up late through the night. If you were reading during the day, I hope it was a good day for you. I've been writing consistently ever since I had failed my twelfth grade AP English. Before the final day of summer school, my teacher asked me, how did I get into that mess, with my graduation in question, with my summer school work incomplete, but my writing very good. I told her I was working on a novel and that took the time I needed for homework. I was able to graduate, thankfully, but to this day, ten years later I haven't completed a novel. My parents, after giving me hell about it, suggested that I should write short stories until I get good at writing, get a knack for it, so to speak. So that's what I did, built a knack for writing short stories. I even got published in Moldavian "Chance" and "Russian World" in Seattle. This is my first attempt at self publishing however. Wish me luck!

This page contains all the free short stories by me, written over a fifteen year period, since I was sixteen until I turned thirty one. You are welcome to explore the site, but all the reading content is available by just scrolling down. To buy four of my novellas on Amazon for 99 cents, collectively called Alice and Bullet Adventures click the white underlined link. If you liked the short stories, you'll love the novellas.

Arthur Yudkevich tales

Wanted: Young and Dangerous​

The wanted poster nailed to the door of the bar declared him Young and Dangerous. Larry, twenty-five years old, five feet ten, lanky, with brown eyes and black hair, wearing blue jeans and a jean jacket, had committed a murder and a rape. The reward for bringing him in was ten thousand dollars.

“I told you, brother, they want you! You have got to run! Escape! Flee!” Jake, twenty-three, of similar appearance, but younger and taller, said to a man who was twenty-five, five-feet-ten, with brown eyes and black hair, wearing blue jeans and a jean jacket.

“I am not going to run, little brother. This town is my home. I have no money and nowhere else to go. I am going to confront those claiming I should be locked up in prison for being Young and Dangerous!” Larry said.

“But I know you! It is true! You really are Young and Dangerous! You can’t deny it! You get into fights where others would walk away, unless I stop you!” Jake said.

“I don’t just get into fights, I also know how to fight. I will tell my side of the story,” Larry said. “The man I killed had tried to stab me with a knife. The woman I raped had tried to seduce me and it is her brother, not her, who held a grudge. He tried to manipulate me into marrying her and I will not – there are plenty of other skirts out there. He decided his own fate.”

“Can’t you tell no one will listen to you babble? You are like the definition of Young and Dangerous! They will lock you up! You will look at the sky and count the stars through metal bars!” Jake said.

“No! I have to confront the Town’s people and prove my innocence,” Larry said.

“Do you consider yourself innocent?” Jake said.

“No, of course not,” Larry said. “But they should not consider me guilty of anything, just for sleeping with a woman and defending myself against her brother’s wrath!”

“Then you’re fool! Do what you like!” Jake stormed off.

 

***

Meanwhile, the town’s people gathered in the square to discuss current events. Bakers, smiths, plumbers, farmers, cattle herders and others had come together in excitement.

“So young! So misguided! So dangerous!” was the phrase on everyone’s lips. “Raped a girl and killed her brother!”

“He is so Young and Dangerous, my blood boils like a river of magma!” Larry’s father said. “He raped the girl and killed her brother! There is no excuse! He is simply Young and Dangerous! The poor thing is only sixteen years old and in tears! I hate to say it, but he will have to be executed by hanging! To think my little boy’s fate is to have his neck broken!”

“He is your son! There are plenty of others who will condemn him!” Larry’s mother said. “I do feel he is too young and dangerous to stay in this town, however. Let’s exile him! It’s better than hanging!”

 

Larry walked up to the Town Square and lifted his hands in surrender. A dozen volunteers from the Town’s people, at the nod from the Sheriff, had grabbed him and tied him up.

The Sheriff approached Larry with a leisurely gait. “Well, well, if it’s not Mister Young and Dangerous! Are the ropes too tight?” the Sheriff said.

“I am no rapist nor a murderer! I made love to a beautiful girl as she wished me to and killed a man in self-defense,” Larry said. “Free me!”

“So that’s your side of the story. Do you expect us to believe it?” the Sheriff said. “Can you deny that you are a danger to civilized society? Statistically, it is men from your age group, twenty-five to thirty-five who commit the most serious offenses against the law.”

“I am not claiming to be from another age group; I am saying I have done nothing any other decent man wouldn’t have in my place!” Larry said.

“The girl you fucked is sixteen. She hasn’t reached the age of consent yet,” the Sheriff said.

“Well, I haven’t reached an age where I can turn down a girl who is stunningly pretty and knows what she wants!” Larry said. “I wasn’t her first man.”

“Town’s people!” the Sheriff said, raising his arm in the air for silence. “We do not have a judge in this Town, so the duty of judging this man is in your hands! If he is truly Young and Dangerous, I see only two possible courses of action open to us. To hang him or to exile him!”

“Hang him!” shouted some. “Hang him! Hang him! Hang him!”

“Exile him!” yelled others. “Exile him! Exile him! Exile him!”

“It is me he has wronged!” a man shouted. “He raped my daughter and killed my son! If he becomes my indentured servant, let him stay! I’ll work him day and night and whip the skin off his back, but at least he will be able to say he is more than just an animal!”

“Would you agree to that?” the Sheriff said.

Larry snorted. “I don’t owe anyone a thing,” he said. “I did what was right and what any decent man in my place would have done. You can exile me or hang me as you wish, but I will not become anyone’s slave.”

“What if you were to work off your debt to society by apologizing for your acts and becoming a servant of the town, rather than of one man?” the Sheriff said.

“There is work to be done at my stables!” a man shouted. “Horse manure to be cleaned up and horses to be fed!”

“He can help me bake bread and deliver it to Town’s people!” a baker shouted.

“Yeah! Yeah! Work it off and pay your debt to society!” Larry’s Mom said.

“I have no quarrel with anyone here, but if you continue to insult me, I will shoot down the lot of you!” Larry said.

Sheriff raised both hands for silence. “He has chosen his path, and it is away from civilization! Let us kick him out of our fair Town!” Sheriff said. “Untie him and let him be exiled!”

Rough hands untied Larry, and a wall of Town’s people began to crowd him out of Town.

“You asshole!”

“Fool!”

“Bitch!”

Larry raised his hand: “I have one last thing to say!”

“What do you want to say?” the Sheriff said.

“I know how to fight,” Larry said, as the point of his knife buried itself in Sheriff’s throat. The Sheriff grabbed on to the knife’s handle with both hands and fell face forward. Blood pooled underneath his body. His own hands holding the knife handle in place sealed his fate.

“He is dead!” “He killed the Sheriff!” “The Sheriff is dead!”

Then a gunshot rang throughout the square. Jake walked up to Larry and said: “Forgive me, my beloved brother, but you chose your own path.”

“I… I love you… I love you, baby …” Larry choked on his own blood, looking up at his brother. “Come on, Jake, one more for the fences…”

Then Jake pointed his gun at his older brother’s head, and thunder struck.

The Terrorist

“I’ve had enough. I am going to get my father’s gun and shoot everything that moves, whether it’s a lizard or an old lady,” thirty year old Robert said. He was wearing blue pajama pants and a white T-shirt. His eyes were focused.

Robert had heard many times of other people losing it, but somehow he thought it would never happen to him. After all, he was just an ordinary person, not a terrorist. He didn’t approve of terrorism, though sometimes he thought he understood that some people were fighting back against the world after being pushed too far.

But my head just wasn’t meant to be a concert hall.

Am I this way because I am weak or deficient? Simply not strong enough to overcome challenges? What are other people going to think when they find out? Or did Fate just deal me a bad hand?

Robert went to his parent’s room, opened the safe and pulled out a small Glock. He clicked the safety off and made sure the magazine was loaded.

Now, the last and most important part of this wild adventure… Who or what am I going to shoot? I need to send a message.

His voices used neighborhood kids to get under his skin. Nobody could be as cruel as children.

I guess I will go to the local library, into the kids’ section.

He picked up his library card. The library was an hour walk from home. It was hot outside in the middle of July in California. By the time he arrived, blood pounded in his temples and he was sweating bullets.

The Glock was wrapped in his green T-shirt in order not to attract attention.

Am I really going to shoot kids? But they are just kids. I was a kid once. Adults aren’t supposed to do bad things to children, because children are meant to be loved by grown ups.

The library was a large building with high ceilings appropriate for a temple of knowledge. Row after row of bookcases. The air in the library was nice and cool.

Wouldn’t it be better to just shoot myself? No, no, no! I decided I was going to shoot anything that moves, whether it’s a lizard or an old lady! I need to do what I need to do!

So why am I being indecisive now?

Robert pulled out his gun and fired a warning shot into the ceiling.

“Everybody get down on the ground, hands above your heads! Do what I tell you to, or you all die!”

He focused his attention on two pre-teen children. They were both screaming.

Robert put a finger to his lips in a gesture for silence. People were running out of the library like animals from a wild fire. But the kids right in front of him couldn’t hope to escape.

“What are your names, kids?” he said.

“I am Stacey. Are you going to hurt us?” she said.

“I am Michael. Please let Stacey go, she is just a girl!” he said.

“I am going to ask you three questions about things they don’t teach in school. Answer correctly and you can both go home. Are you two smart?”

“Yes, we are pretty smart,” Michael and Stacey said in unison.

“Tell me, what do adults want more than anything? I’ll give you a hint, kids want the exact opposite.”

“To become kids again. While we, kids, just want to grow up,” Stacey said.

“Good girl! Two more questions and you can both go home.”

“You are smart!” Michael winked at Stacey. “But I have the next one!”

“What are three things adults have that set them apart from kids?” Robert asked.

“Sex?” Michael said. “But that’s one thing. What are two more?”

“Money?” Stacey said. “I get an allowance from my parents.”

“You two are close, so I will tell you what the third thing is: Power!”

“Like you have over us right now!” Michael said with a girly giggle.

“Finally, what is the worst thing a person can be, for taking advantage of the young and the weaker sex?”

“A child molester?” Michael said.

“A rapist?” Stacey said.

“You two can go home, your parents should be proud of you.”

“Mister, you didn’t hurt us at all!” Michael said.

“Go home,” Robert said. “I am going to finish what I started.”

“We can really go home?” Stacey said. “But Mister… you are neither a child molester nor a rapist… You were good to us… so why kill yourself?”

Robert took turns patting the pre-teens on the head. For a moment all his troubles were over. A tear rolled down his cheek.

“Trust me, I wish I didn’t have to die,” he said.

“Then don’t!” Stacey and Michael said at the same time.

A police siren wailed outside. “Can one of you do me this last favor? If they ask you whether I was drunk or high, say no.” Then Robert put his father’s Glock to his temple and pulled the trigger.

 

                         The following story, My Vengeance, has been somewhat influenced by The Two-Blood Lion                       

My Vengeance

“The breached castle wall will never be repaired. This is the end of our clan,” the Old King said.

Jackals and other vultures fed on the unburied bodies.

Two men wrapped in warm furs stood on the battlements overseeing the Valley by the River. To the North rose ice-hat mountains. The River carried its waters enveloping the Valley from North to West. To the East lay a ravine, with milky mist rising from the below. To the South lay endless fields of rye to be harvested three times a year.

“How long ago?” the Sad Prince asked.

“Three weeks. The Northern Barbarians killed most of the citizens, excluding the women and children who were taken as slaves. Your little brother, His Highness the Younger, must be among the slaves, unless he was killed. They mutilated the corpses – ripped out the tongues, cut off the ears and gouged out the eyes,” the Old King said. “After the fight was over and it was clear we lost, I had to run.”

“I will avenge them all,” the Sad Prince said. He had a head full of rebellious black hair. His eyes were an average brown. He was of normal height for a man, yet a full head shorter than the Old King. “They are my people, yet I allowed it to happen. It is my fault the Valley by the River fell. I should have been there, not in a foreign land searching for a bride.”

“It is a fine thing for a beautiful young man to search for a bride. How will you avenge them? The soldiers were killed in battle. The women and children enslaved afterwards. You have no army to lead.”

“Then I will go on my own. My cause is just and the Truth is behind me. All other things being equal, whoever is right cannot lose.”

“I cannot go with you. The wound I suffered is fatal and it’s only a matter of time before I succumb.”

The Old King coughed, his whole body shaking and wiped away the blood on his grey beard with his furry sleeve. His wrinkled hand trembled.

“You’ll need a weapon worthy of your cause, Your Highness. Let me give you my bow. I used to knock a half dozen arrows on it to slay several foes at once. Two more gifts I can give you – this jug of fire water will burn when in contact with air and a potent yet slow acting venom powder in this small bag to poison their water supply.”

“Thank you, Father, Your Majesty.”

 

 

                                                               ***

His Highness, the Sad Prince tracked the passage of the Northern Barbarians. The wagons on wheels driven by horses and dogs as well as domesticated deer trampled everything, but they were slow. On horseback, armed with a fine-steel longsword and His Majesty’s bow, as well as a quiver full of heavy arrows and a jug of fire water, he made good time, covering almost a week’s journey in a day. He had enough provisions – mostly dried meat and bread with garlic – to last him two weeks, after that he would need to either hunt or buy food with the heavy gold pouch on his belt.

The first night of his quest for vengeance he didn’t sleep despite fatigue. He heeded nature’s call under a tree. His fine-bred horse had to be fed, so he let it graze on trampled rye. He drunk water from a water skin. He kept thinking that his little brother could be alive, enslaved. His little brother, His Highness the Younger, needed his help. Then he thought of his fiancé. Her rolling down black hair and rich body. His little mischiefs with them both. He couldn’t replace them, not now, not ever. It would take a lot of Barbarian blood to put out the flame burning in his soul.

The second and third and fourth day he still rode hard, spurring the stallion on. His horse fell under him and he skinned his knee as he jumped off the stallion’s back.

“Get up, you have to carry me farther!”

But the stallion wouldn’t get up. Sad Prince’s ass hurt, it was sore and wept despite the saddle.

He was very tired, but he knew his duty and it would take more than minor inconveniences to stop him.

“Forgive me, my loyal servant!” he said as he made a deep cut the stallion’s neck and drunk the salty blood. The horse thrashed for a moment and then it thrashed no more. He felt invigorated. His prey would not escape him.

He ran and ran and ran without stopping, following the trail of a thousand people and a cattle herd. Soon he was on top of a hill overseeing a valley where the barbarians made camp. Their cattle grazed on the juicy grass surrounding a lake.

If these people are worth their salt, they must stand watch. I have to kill the watchmen if I want to get close enough to set fire to the camp.

The Sad Prince crawled on his belly until he reached the shore, cautious as a wild cat or a lone wolf stalking a deer, but it wasn’t a deer he found.

His Highness The Younger sailed in a dinghy with a Barbarian woman. Their laughter carried over the water, reaching his ears. They were flying a kite and taking turns manning the oars. The kite fell into the water, His Highness the Younger jumped after it and the boat capsized. They swam to the shallow water and embraced as their mouths melted into a kiss.

I need a distraction, the Sad Prince thought. There do not appear to be any watchmen.

He knocked a half dozen arrows, soiled with the fire water which burned on contact with air and sent them flying. He repeated the action twice, then stood up tall to admire his work.

The barbarian camp was on fire.

The woman that was with His Highness the Younger ran into the camp, leaving him behind. The Second Prince did not follow her. Instead he headed straight for the archer. Coming out of the brush growing on the shore he said:

“Brother, I know it is you. Show yourself!” the Younger Prince said.

“Nice to see you, too, traitor,” the Sad Prince said.

“It’s not what it looks like,” the Younger Prince said.

“It looked like love to me,” the Sad Prince said. “Do you have feelings for the girl?”

“She is the leader of the barbarians, but she is smart, sexy and I can make her laugh. She means the world to me. We are to marry next week. How could you kill indiscriminately? You are not my brother!” the Younger Prince said.

“They came to our land and killed our people. Desecrated their corpses. What should I do?” the Sad Prince said.

“They came when the frost and scurvy, the disease of lack of nutrients, forced them. They begged our people for aid while their babies were dying, yet His Majesty, Our Father denied them any,” the Younger Prince said.

“It is their nomadic lifestyle that is the cause of their poverty! If they lived settled down they wouldn’t come by such harsh conditions!” the Sad Prince said.

“It’s easy to judge when you are chasing skirts in a distant land. Where were you when this whole thing happened?” the Younger Prince said.

Whack!

The Sad Prince gave the Younger Prince a boot on the ass.

“Watch your words and remember who you are and who am I, boy!” the Sad Prince said.

“Let me take you in as my prisoner. You will find someone to your taste. A boy, a girl, I don’t care, but you ‘ll be happy. Let go of the past, I am begging you!” the Younger Prince said.

“Very well,” the Sad Prince said. “I will be your prisoner. Take my bow and lead me at the point of my own sword. See? I am defenseless.” He raised his hands into the air.

The fires, meanwhile, were put out, but the camp was in chaos.

The Younger Prince led the Older at sword point to a watchman’s nest on a pine tree. The watchman climbed down and fashioned a noose around the Sad Prince’s neck as he force marched him into the middle of the camp. The Barbarian woman-leader was there, shouting at men to move as they were pouring buckets of water onto their tents and corralling their cattle.

When she saw the two Princes her expression changed to fury.

She quickly asked the Younger Prince something. He replied in her tongue, gesticulating with sword in hand.

Whack!

She hit the Sad Prince across the face and he fell on the ground. Then she said something to her men, and they surrounded the Sad Prince, kicking him deliberately and repeatedly as he curled up in a ball. Then, as suddenly as she attacked, she called off her warriors. They retreated, taking away his bow, his water skin, his supply of dried meat and bread with garlic and pouch of gold coins.

The Sad Prince coughed and wiped away blood from his lip only for some more to pour from the cut above his eye. Someone had stepped on his wrist causing an abrasion and two of his fingers were broken.

The Younger Prince uttered something that Sad Prince thought sounded as thanks.

The Younger Prince helped his brother to get up and half-walked half-carried him to an empty tent.

“You’ve made the right choice! I know this hurts, but it is for the best, I swear on our Mother’s grave!” the Younger Prince said. “You’ll feel like these are your people in no time.”

“I need water to clean my wounds. They broke my fingers and my face is bleeding. May I go to the lake to gather some?” the Sad Prince said.

“Not today. But tomorrow I will ask my woman if she can allow it, under my responsibility. Good night, brother.”

The Younger Prince left.

That night the Sad Prince didn’t sleep either. He lay awake, cursing the Barbarians who took away most of his possessions and wondering if anyone would come to search him.

The next day his Highness the Younger walked his sibling to the water to dress his wounds. He saw the powder, which his sibling poured into the water.   

“What’s that powder? It looks like salt,” the Younger Prince said.

“Just harmless salt for dressing wounds,” the Sad Prince said, putting some powder on his tender wrist then gathering some water into his cupped hands and drinking it in one gulp.

“Why would you drink salted water? Brother, what is that powder?” the Younger Prince said.

“It’s just salt,” the Sad Prince said.

“Tell me the truth, brother, please. What is that really?” the Younger Prince said. “Let me try to drink it…” He cupped his hands together and gathered water for drinking. The Sad Prince smacked his hands open and the water poured back into the lake.

“I see…” the younger brother said. “So I am not good enough for you… and never was.”

“This is my duty,” the older brother said. “You chose to chase a barbarian girl’s skirt.”

“I… don’t know what to do,” the younger brother said.

“If you want her so badly, take her and ride as far away as you can. You two deserve each other,” the older brother said.

“But you…”

“I have fulfilled my duty. Go!”

A little farther down the shoreline barbarian mothers bathed their children and watered the cattle.

The Younger Prince walked away, tears rolling down his cheeks. He entered the tent of his captor, the woman who was the leader of the barbarian people.

“Gather me some water for a bath,” the barbarian leader told him. “Go with my female servant and bring me some water. I will bathe.”

The Younger Prince smiled. “Come here my love, let me hold you.”

He opened his arms.

The Leader embraced him, not expecting a knife under the shoulder blade.

His Highness turned the knife. Then, when she bit his lips, he bit her back. Then with one final effort she pulled a hairpin out of her hair and stabbed him with it in the neck. So, they died in each other’s arms.

In the confusion that followed nobody thought twice about drinking clear lake water.

Soon, the jackals and other vultures really had a feast.

The Apocalipsis

What if, late at night, the comet will crash into the Earth?! The bitter question hung in the air. Some thought that it would be better to just die right away. Couples of lovers ran to the gardens, cautiously connecting lips. They wanted to meet the morning in the ecstasy of a kiss. It was worse for the sick, whom no one took care of, except sisters of mercy. What for, if the following morning everything will be finished? The president of the USA gave an order: not to worry without reason. The president of Russia also gave an order: all space objects are to fly and do their business, but not maliciously crash into Earth. The people didn’t heed them. But what will happen if it really will crash into Earth?! A scientist-astronomer looked through the telescope at the sky. He made a note in his journal and grew pensive. On the finance market there was panic. Valuable notes were virtually given away.

 “Hello, gentlemen, my name is Andrey. By nationality I am Jewish. Nice to meet you,” introduced himself a seemingly – intellectual looking young man. "Give on livelihood!" one of beggars had asked. He had no left hand. The stump stood out from under a sleeve.   Andrey had seen ugliness and shuddered. "And what are you doing here among us - beggars, on a scrap heap, sir?" had asked another. “If he is Jewish, then he is probably rich. Came to mock us!”  said the third. "No, of course not. I have come here to live the last hours of this world as it is the only scrap heap in the city where city lights don't wash away from the sky its lawful owners - stars." "Well then here is your cardboard, you can wrap yourself into it like a blanket and wait with us for morning to come," the one who has asked a question had said. Andrey had sat down, wrapped himself in a cardboard and began to wait for morning. The cardboard was a bad obstacle for heat leaving a body. Here the Kid has approached him. "Uncle, I am hungry..." "My name is Andrey. I have no food." "Andrey, I want to eat." Then Andrey had gotten up, thrown off a cardboard, and went to exchange the jacket for a pie. "What do you say?" he had asked the Kid.

"Thanks!" The Kid's face flushed, he widely opened a mouth and sent pie there like a plane into a hangar.

"Sit down nearby, to you it must  be cold!" Andrey said. The kid sat down with him side by side. "You are warm!" the kid had said joyfully.

"Alright now, quietly, fall asleep."

"And you will be living when I wake up?" the Kid has asked.

"Of course", Andrey has said.

"And my parents? They had jumped out of a window for fear of a comet."

"They won't come back to life. Sorry."

"And what is that? The comet, huh?"

"Majestic, isn't it? Watch that orange trail on her."

"Yes..."

"Fall asleep."

"Andrey, I am scared. What if I fall asleep and I won't wake up any more?" Andrey hugged the Kid, pulling him close. And, with the singing of birds they had met the first rays of the Sun.

 

Ethics of Betrayal

 

They lie snuggling in cold, dewy grass. The Omory tenderly watches the girl, whose head rests on his shoulder. He cautiously moves his fingers from down upwards her backbone fillet, tickles her neck, fondles her strong breasts, feeling her racing heartbeat. 
"Stop," playfully whispers to him Ivly. "It tickles!" 
His hand answers, sliding to her hip, pulling her closer, and then everything happens once more. 
"You know, I always dreamed of someone like you... from beyond the sky... My tribe left Mother - Earth's womb and someday there will return, but I am a daughter of the shaman and woman of foreign people. The Earth won't accept me. Therefore I wanted someone like you... Who will come for my sake and take me away." 
"Will you fly off with me? I love you. When we fix the shuttle, we will return to my homeland. There are great cities, where it's always bright out. Although you can't just walk down the street - so much traffic... The food prepared in some places is very tasty. You will like it there." 
"I am afraid. You nearly got destroyed when you arrived." 
"But you will depart with me? We will fix the Shuttle." 
"It's cold," she says suddenly, getting up and searching for her clothes. Her young body moves with the grace of a cat. Admiring her for a fleeting moment, Darras follows her example. 
"So do you agree?" he asks persistently, when they are both fully dressed. 
"Won't you forget about me, when you return home?" craftily asks Ivly. 
"No, I love you," answers the Junior Pilot. 
"I will fly off, so long as you are with me," replies the girl. 

*** 

"Omory, we, The People, will not tolerate you lot on our land any longer. It is profitable to trade with you and we didn't banish you at once. But you are killers, and must go back beyond the sky to your own civilization. Until you leave, we will exterminate you; you will never know if your death is behind the nearest bush," threateningly finishes the Chieftain, a handsome man of thirty with a narrow scar through the left cheek, dressed in leather trousers and a blue cotton shirt exchanged from Omory. 
Junior pilot Darras clenches his fists in rage. Tall, green-eyed, with shortly cut black hair - like all Omory, he outwardly appears like a human. 
"Gladly, you dirty savage! We cannot depart!" he nearly screams, but holds back under a warning gaze of Capitain Koalr. 
Likely about a dozen savages lie hidden in the woods, behind the border of overgrown, as -- high -- as -- a -- man -- is -- tall grass, only waiting for an occasion to loose bowstrings on which poisoned arrows are set. 
From the primitive poisons of the savages even the modern magic of Omori cannot defend adequately - the unlucky ones die in convulsions within several hours. 
None of this would have happened if the Gates led to asteroid -- fair as it was supposed to, but because of some miscalculation the portal led to the upper atmosphere of the anonymous barbarous planet... More precisely as it has become clear when they have learned language of natives by means of magic, those called their planet "Earth"; however most known races did that. Darras remembered in vivid detail misunderstanding and disappointment when on measuring instruments complete nonsense appears. Fruitless searches for malfunctions - only then it had become clear that what's faulty was the Gate-Cutter itself. 
The panic captures the crew when it becomes clear that measuring instruments don't lie and emergency landing on an un-civilized planet is necessary. Such a rare, un-common maneuver. 
Then on cheekbones of the captain Koalr tremors came. On his orders senior pilot Nevior was brought into the cabin from the isolator. Nevior demanded his bottle, "a magic potion", as he "doesn't want to die sober in the company of sober idiots", then told the power department not to economize top-quality manna for power and ordered Darras to get the hell up from his chair. 
Even an ace, such as Nevior, won't put the shuttle without landing strip and dispatchers, Darras thought, getting up. If it is a known planet, then the rescuers will find traces of the crash in several years. If it's not, then time will reduce their remnants to dust, and their Shuttle will be added to the list of hundreds of other missing Shuttles. 
A crewmate with a doomed voice moans that he has three children left behind at home. He begins to call their names, remembering their pranks and the present he gave them last Christmas and how happy they all were... Captain bellows at him, but he won't be quiet... Magic mirrors of the cabin show their slowly approaching grave - a pattern from the dirty-brown spots flowing in saturated-green which were cut by the bent dark blue strips. The junior pilot distinguished the mighty mountains, the dense woods and the rivers bearing nearly transparent waters as well as saltwater seas. 
Why should his body forever remain at the crash site of the shuttle?! He didn't have time to do anything in life. Yes, he earned the title of Junior Pilot on the Shuttle and had seen half-a-dozen worlds, but...He was tired of long trips, after which no one waited for him. Tired of depositing every month nearly the entire monthly paycheck under condescending-sympathizing glances of Company's female clerks. Maybe he should abandon this stupid profession and go find a girl, cheerful as a child and beautiful as morning dawn? 
That's it, if I live that's what I will do. I can't go on living like this. 
And then when the shuttle had softly landed on the soil which had sunk under its weight, Darras had thought that he won't break the word. 

"...Give us time to fix the shuttle," says the captain. Omory tried not to think that the Gate-Cutter might be beyond repair. "We are traders, not soldiers, we don't want war. But we have powerful weapons." 
"You are right, you are poor warriors. Leave," says the Chief, turning his back to them. 
"We are returning to the Shuttle," irritably says the Captain. 

*** 

Darras tears through a dense bush, thinking that convincing the captain under different pretexts to release him on similar excursions became harder and harder. Branches sharply whip him on the face, push back, creating before him an elastic wall, but he persistently moves forward, constantly looking back - are the enemies hiding nearby? That's how The People defeated Omori - with poisoned arrows from ambushes, pathetic cowards. Just in case, he wears a pipe-shooter on a belt. The spell imposed on an artifact will spit out from a barrel a small piece of metal at a huge speed, as soon as he pulls the trigger. It is much better than a bow. 
At last he arrives on the agreed place at the hanging rock ledge. Ivli already waits for him there, fingering a lock of hair - fair, unlike dark hair of her fellow tribeswomen. 
"They haven't concluded a truce," - she says, at once understanding his facial expression. "Why do your people refuse to surrender the murderer?" 
"Some want to surrender him, but the captain won't allow it," Darras reluctantly answers. "Nevior landed the shuttle flawlessly. The Captain can't give him to savages. " 
"Is it only savages who can demand justice on a murderer?" innocently asks Ivly. 
"Sorry, I'm not..." begins Darras 
"When you fell out of the sky, I have read your thoughts and have decided to save you. I have asked Earth to satisfy the only request of the half-breed -- to softly accept your shuttle. Tell it to the Omory, and let them will hand over this... Nevior," says Ivli. 
"They won't believe it," replies Darras. 
"And do you trust me?" asks Ivli. 
"Ivli..." says Darras. 
"I only want for us to be together!" says Ivli. 
"Ivli, don't cry... I also want the same thing," says Darras hugging her shoulders. "You'll see, I will show you huge cities in which it is so lonely without you." 
It takes a while to get back to the shuttle because he goes the long way, not wishing to be scratched by bushes again. He even gets lost, but then finds his way again. 
At an entry-lock he meets two Omori from power-sector on guard duty, in the usual brown overalls. 
"It has been ordered soon as you return, to come to the captain, into compartment A4G," the taller one says. Darras nods, foreseeing trouble. 
The expected reprimand, however, doesn't occur. In A4G the Captain Koalr, Doctor Gionz and a Supercargo Sonlaym while away the time over a game of cards. 
"I want to congratulate you on a rank of the senior pilot. Nevior has committed suicide, having expiated the drunk tricks," the Captain says when Darras enters. 
"Your turn to make a move, Captain," Supercargo Sonlaym says. 
"The bastard was afraid that we would give him to savages. Good riddance," says Darras. 
"Perhaps, it is worth stopping a game. Since the senior pilot Darras is already here, we can begin a meeting," Gionz has notices. "Let's start." 
"Don't speak badly of dead men, Darras," says the Captain. 
"You are right, Captain. I even regret now a little that he has died - I won't be able to tell him anymore what I think of him. Or what I thought, to be more precise." 
"Stop acting up, Junior Pilot! Yes, Doctor, we will begin. Sonlaym, this time you should refuse an idea to exempt me from the most part of my money." 
"Captain, but to interrupt a game..." says Supercargo Sonlaym. 
"It is necessary as I am not going to be rooted to the ground and wait until you finish. I was called here for some reason? Or deal for four players," - Darras cheerfully offers. He dislikes the Supercargo for some reason. 
"Junior pilot, be silent when your superior officer is speaking!" snaps the Captain. "Let's begin. I will describe the situation. To fix the Portal-Cutter we need time that we don't have. Provisions and fresh water are in short supply, and barbarians won't let us re-supply. They refused to settle the conflict peacefully and continue to attack our teams that we send out. That's why I turned to Dr. Gionz. Dr. Gionz?" 
"Yes, allow me to explain. On Captain Koalr's request I synthesized a certain elixir. If it is injected into living flesh, it gradually spreads, killing the living cells. The miasma from the elixir is contagious and will kill every exemplar of the species until there are none left. That's the theory and I want to confirm it with practice -- it can be a great theme for my dissertation. The Captain plan is effective like everything genius. We inject one of the barbarians with the elixir, after that we release him, guaranteeing that his tribesman will forget all about waging war. Well what do you think SuperCargo Sonlaym? What about you, senior pilot Darras?" 
"It's not a bad idea," shrugs the SuperCargo Sonlaym. "If the others are for it, then I am not against it. However, it won't reflect on the value of our cargo -- it already fell by about forty percent." 
Ivli. Very well, this is war. I will warn Ivli to convince her to stay away from her tribe. But when we finally fix the Portal-Cutter, I will take her with me to my home. "Captain, it's better to try to reason with the People again. Give them Nevior's body." 
"They wanted Nevior alive for torture. There is no guarantee it will work, but the provisions are at an end," objects doctor Gionz. "Even if we try the elixir first, we are not losing anything, correct? If it doesn't work, we will come back to your proposal." 
"So the vote results in three "for" and one "against". Doctor, is everything ready?" inquires the Captain. 
"Certainly, Captain," Gionz produces a sealed bottle from unbreakable glass out of his pocket. 
"Where are we going?" asks Darras, following the Captain out of the compartment. 
"While you were on reconnaissance, we caught one of the savages near the ship. More precisely, a girl. Now she is in the isolator ward where Nevior was," the captain says, lifting the lever to open a door. 
One second that it took for the door of the isolator ward to slide aside seems to Darras like an eternity. It is impossible. She couldn't be near the shuttle. It's not she. They met, and then she had gone back to a settlement ... In his breast the stuffy lump of fear grows. And he is not especially surprised seeing Ivli shrinking in a corner. 
How? It is a nightmare... 
"My Captain, she is a woman," he says. 
The frightened, none-comprehending eyes of Ivli drown Darras in a sea of guilt like a kettlebell the size of a massive asteroid. 
"Let me through, please," says Doctor Gionz as SuperCargo Sonlaym and Captain Koalr follow him. Pulling out something that looked like a knife with a needle instead of a blade, Gionz opens the bottle. "Don't worry, gentlemen, there is no threat. What's dangerous is miasma of elixir coming from a living organism, and only a day after the contamination. In pure form they are harmless. Now I will inject her with thiiiiisss liquid," he says, as liquid dripps from the needle. 
"It's too bad, such a beauty... Dr. Gionz, do you need help? I will gladly hold her down, control her..." says SuperCargo Sonlaym. 
"That's not necessary, I will manage on my own." Says Gionz. 
"But I will still help you," lustily sneers Sonlaym, taking a step forward. 
That forces Darrras into action. During fights, movement becomes quicker, reaction speed improves. Now Darras moves faster than ever before in his life. 
Before anyone realizes what's going on, he trips Sonlaym and pushes him into the wall. Then, before even the loud impact of Sonlaym's head into the wall, he grabs Ivli, desperately resisting (why? he wonders), by the waist and darts outside, jerking the lever with all the force he was could master. 
Uncomprehending Gionz still holds the bottle and the strange needle-like knife. Koalr runs to the door, but it closes in front of his nose. 
Ivli and Darras are alone in the corridor and stare at each other, despite the banging on the door. 
"I wanted to convince them to hand over the killer," Ivli says before Darras can ask. She is still frightened. 
Foolish one. 
"Ivli, you need to get off the ship," says Darras. 
There is nowhere to backaway. He understands what he must do and how. Leading her by the arm he heads to the airlock. 
"Ivli, the distances between different worlds are enormous," he hurriedly says, as he walks. "Remember I said we were lucky that the Portal opened here? We should have come out of the gate in complete emptiness, away from... everything. Like a desert. And die there. I will open the gates, after all it's easier for Gate-Cutter to open a Portal at the site of previously opened Portal, rather than at a random spot..." 
"Beloved, don't fly off! Let's run away together from this war!" cries Ivli. 
"No. We'll be killed by your tribesmen or Gionz's elixir, while this way you'll live," says Darras. 
At the airlock two power department's personnel while away the time. 
"Where are you taking her, Darras?" asks the tall one. 
"Captain's orders," with all the carelessness he can master says Senior Pilot. 
"Why didn't the Captain let us know?" inquires the other. 
"I'll ask him now," says the tall one. He reaches for the intercom, but before he can do that, Darras yanks his pipe-shooter from his belt which he took with him for "reconnaisance" and pulls the trigger three times. Ivli looks at the two fallen bodies in horror. 
"Go. As I die, I will think about you," says Senior Pilot. He will never get the chance to really live. 
They kiss over the bodies of the power department personnel, and tears flow down their cheeks. 
Five minutes later Darras already sits in the pilot seat. His, Senior Pilot Darras's at the age of twenty two. 
What if... But what difference does it make now... Although there was a chance, that.... 
He turns on the the Portal-Cutter, and smoothly, like at an exam, cuts out the Gate. 
From a distance Ivli watches the shuttle get enveloped in a violet glow and vanish, leaving a maelstorm behind. 
Suddenly she understands what she must do. Picking up a rock, she hits her own hand with it. And once more, and once more, impatiently, almost feverishly, until blood begins to flow freely. 
Dipping her finger into her own blood, she kneels and begins, with jerky motions, draw strange signs on the ground. Great Mother is enormous, she is more powerful than the People or Omory. What is the distance between stars to her? Let her ask her sister-planet, the one from which her beloved came from, to pull in close to her breast the stray shuttle. What would it cost her? Even if she, Ivli, will never meet another one and will spend her whole life alone, because there can't be another. So long only as Darras will live. So long as the Great-Mother will answer the prayer of the half-blood Ivli... 

Raveek’s Travels
When Raveek left home, his Father’s last words were: “You’ll crawl back on your own when you are cold and hungry out on the street. To think that my son doesn’t want a higher education, but wants only to write! Don’t you understand that writers are like stray dogs, they are all impoverished, while you, one day, will have to feed a family, for I am not immortal!”
To which Raveek proudly replied: “Not everything in life is measured in money.”
To not die of hunger he found a job as driver of an Off-Roader between the stations of Russians and Americans. Inhabited stations closed by the caps of forcefields supported a minimum of one hundred thousand people: scientists, engineers and constructors, cooks and sanitation engineers, musicians. At the American station Raveek has lived since he was twelve – his immigrated there because his father, a computer programmer needed a good job with pay that could support a family. The move has been extremely unpleasant, to say the least, since all his friends were left behind. Behind were left all the favorite locations in the neighborhood and favorite foods. However, he learned spoken English faster than his parents, although it cost him a lot of tears, when he went to school not-comprehending what his classmates and teachers were saying. Now he was nineteen, and he didn’t miss home as acutely as he had seven year ago and it has been six month since he drove mail in the Off-Roader between the stations San Francisco and Moscow. Also on Inhabited Planet were stations of Germans, Koreans and Japanese, but Raveek served only one route.
He had spent a month learning how to drive the Off-Roader – a track laying vehicle, capable of movement on the ground, in the air, on water and underwater. The training mostly took place on a simulator, so when the Company trusted Raveek with an actual vehicle, he couldn’t be happier. Since then, for six months now, he increased the mileage on the route.
Poor flora and fauna of Inhabited consisted of the vining plants and low trees bearing bitter fruits, the deer, the rat-like rodents and little fragile birdies nesting in rocks. Well and of course, packs of  green wolves, the only large predators on the planet. They consumed deer, rodents and grass, but the real surprise in them was green chlorophyll in their fur which allowed them to absorb sunlight, making them half animal, half flower
Before the rare deer were discovered, scientists once thought that green wolves only fed from human scrap-heaps, since it wasn’t clear what else they could consume.  However, despite outward likeliness to human dogs, Green Wolves were native to the Inhabited Planet. It turned out they ate deer, grass, and small rodents, while their hides used photosynthesis to absorb sunlight. Wolves died in captivity very quickly. There were no funds for investigating the habits of strange animals in hostile environment of the  Inhabited Planet, and it was considered inhumane to capture them just to have them die. That’s why Green Wolves remained a real enigma to the scientists.
Raveek, a skinny brunette youth in jeans and simple gray clothe coat, who couldn’t grow a beard, listened to heavy metal music when he saw through the front windowshield a Green Wolf, and barely had time to press the brake button on the joystick he used for steering, and the airbag gave him a black eye. The breaks screeched. 
The Green Wolf lifted his rear leg and pissed on the sand.
Raveek saw a corpse of a deer was lying further up the road. The wolf was protecting his kill.
“Shit!” swore Raveek, climbing out of the of the cabin and shouted to immovable rocks: "Be damned this day and this route! Why does this idiocy happen only to me?!"
What does the Direction say about a case like this? he thought, exiting the Off-Roader. He picked up a bright lamp to blind the animal and he picked up The Atomic Transformer if he needed to create an additional weapon and entered the mental interface of the little electronic ball-like device to create a heavy wooden chair.. He got the device on his sixteen’s birthday from his Dad. It was worth more than his monthly paycheck. Several times.
The human stared dead in the golden eye of the animal. With light, gracious steps the animal consumed the distance between them.
Raveek pointed the light at the Green Wolf''s eyes and raised up the chair, intent to scare the animal away.
The wolf growled.
The youth thought, with an unpleasant cold feeling in his belly, that he perhaps will be the first known case of a Green Wolf attack on a human.

"Shoo! Shoo! Boo! Hoo!" yelled the human.
I should climb back into the cabin and lock the door, thought the driver.
A metal door is too tough for an animal. What do the Directions say about a case like this? I don’t remember. I should have committed it to memory or read more attentively.
What if the Green Wolves really don’t attack people like all the encyclopedias and textbooks say? I can’t rely  on that though, I should scare away the animal. No need to kill, just scare it away. What are they afraid of?
Raveek faced off with the wolf, and brought the heavy chair down on the animal's muzzle as it leaped. But he was too slow when the wolf got close enough to use his fangs.
Raveek screamed when the wolf bit his leg. The wolf leaped out of reach.
“You can’t have my kill. I was hunting it for days,” flashed in Raveek's mind. A breathing, running prey. Days of following. The  cathartic kill by choking the deer.
Raveek was shocked to find out that the wolf was communicating telepathically. The wolf howled from the pain, as a cut opened on his muzzle.
"You can't have my kill. I will defend myself."
A series of image flashed before Raveek's mind. Tasty meat surrounded a stream of piss, marking it as property. The desire to survive. Fear of enormous, loud human machinery. 
"I am sorry that I hit you so hard, but you just bit me!"
"You can't have my kill."
Red light surrounding the kill.
"Let's be friends!"
Compassion for the black eye and wound on the leg.
"If you are a friend, feed me some more of that delicious light you have!"
Ultraviolet light. Euphoria.
"Sure! But I have to bandage my leg as I do that."


Raveek pointed the lamp, which  had big scale of radiation, including ultraviolet. The young man has sent a beam directly to widely opened yellow disks. The wolf blinked.
Any dog would hate the bright light, but to a Green Wolf with chlorophyll in his fur... thought Raveek.
He looked at the wolf more closely and saw that its fur seemed to have grown in the instant that the light was directed at it. As for Raveek’s own injury, it wasn’t deep, so he used some disinfectant on it before putting on a bandage from the medical box and that was that.
The wolf stood next to the human. He put his front paws on Raveek’s chest, breathing heavily into his face. A wet tongue licked Raveeks cheek. “Such tasty light. I have never had anything like it. What else have you got?” Raveek understood when his mind received the wolf’s telepathic message. Not words, but pictures, symbols which Raveeks mind transformed into words. Tasty meat dash light. The light is tastier then sunlight. It's something new. Hunger.
“A wolf with telepathic abilities and chlorophyll for fur … wow! And eww… does his breath stink!" said Raveek.
“I’ve met humans before, but none of them had ever fed me such delicious light,” again Raveek’s mind received a message. Two legged erect walking animals. Big machines and thunder. Pain from a gunshot wound. Disbelief, because all the Green Wolf wanted with other sentient beings was play and be friends..  
"Wait, " Ravik said, has got into the car, has rummaged in a glove compartment and has got a sausage roll from there. "Here, eat."
Wolf quickly consumed half of a long roll of sausage.
"Tasty light and roll of meat! Only it is dryish on my taste."
“Well, sorry,” laughed Raveek.
“Come with me, we’ll play hide and seek. We’ll find the end of the rainbow and hunt subterranean moles. I’ll teach you,” the message flashed through Rveek’s mind.
“I can’t right now,” said Raveek. “I have to stay with the Off-Roader.”
“Put my kill into your Off-Roader and come with me. You’ll be the first human to see this. Then we will come back here so I can have my kill back.”
Raveek was flattered by this so he agreed.
Nothing will happen to the Off-Roader even if I am gone for a couple hours.
Raveek, with a noticeable strain picked up the dead deer and put it into the trunk of the Off-Roader. It weighed at least a hundred pounds.
Later that same day, Raveek jumped from rock to rock and climbed cliffs. His nails hurt from the dirt that got underneath, his muscles moaned. The Green Wolf flashed within the limits of line of sight, within fifty-seventy meters, but Raveek wouldn’t have been able to even throw a rock that far. Gradually it grew dark, and Raveek felt an evening chill. The wolf was gone. The youth looked back, knowing he won’t see the Off-Roader. He looked back and didn’t see it. Was this the Green Wolf's revenge on a human who hit him with the car?
Also on the weather forecast they promised a rain storm...
                        ***
The sky was filled with rivers of stars. Lovers and astronomers could stare at them with pleasure, but to the exhausted and thirsty Raveek they were irritating. His mouth tasted bitter; he wished to close eyes and to fall in a non-existence. Chasing the Green Wolf that played hide and seek led him into the middle of a rocky desert. All he had left was thirst…
It’s my own fault. I was led like a fool...
He could quench his thirst however. The youth pulled a bottle of glugyuk from his belt, unscrewed the cap and downed the glugyuk.  Some people said that the good old Coke-Cola was better and healthier, but the new generation to which Raveek belonged preferred glugyuk.
Raveek glanced around, fatigued, on the black monoliths’ of rocks and dry, barren trees. Rain storms turned these rocks into a splashing sea. However even a mosquito couldn't satiate thirst here - the Star has heated rocks as a frying pan, and cool night has only begun. Another couple of hours and the temperature will fall below twenty Celsius. Due to chemical content the water wouldn’t turn to snow. It seems the long-haul track-driver will drown and die.
He even forgot where he left the Off-Roader. He had a choice, to return to the sand route and hope for a lift, just to get fired. Refuse life as a self-sufficient adult and return to his parents’ embraces.
Never and no way. No way and never.
Another couple of minutes and he’ll run from here, and forced by desperation find the sand route, clutching his chance to save himself like the proverbial straw…
But there was still a little bit of time and some small chance…
The freighter approached a rock and gripped a barely visible ledge with his fingers.  Strained his hands, putting his bodyweight on them, and… the ledge broke, and a small sand avalanche came down on Raveek’s eyes. Raveek didn’t even blink. He liked climbing and didn’t waste precious energy. Quickly finding another route, he once again gripped a ledge and hurried up. Sometimes a rock would break under his grip and fall, creating a bright, lightning like spark and he would freeze, pressing his body into the rock, not knowing what held his body up – but after a moment spent finding grips or footholds he continued to climb up. The young man was tired and didn’t want to waste energy on fear of heights. He tried not to think of whether his body would be found if he fell. Finally at the top Raveek grabbed a handful of grass, which threatened to be uprooted by his pull, and quickly pulled himself up. Standing at the top, he looked around. No sign of Off-Roader or other people. Raveek only very approximately knew where he left the Off-Roader.

                    ***                
The rain storm gained power, the wind howled. Raveek for the first time understood why the stations were built on elevated locales. Below, under the cliff a sea raged and soon it will claim the freighter as a victim, because he won’t float on the surface for long in his condition.
What would change in the world if he were gone? Nothing. He didn’t give a damn – what did he need from this world? Raveek wanted to be a writer, but did not know how to write. He wanted to create a new monumental literary work, but he could not remember anything of value that he created in his entire life.
When he was thirteen, he fell in love with an Asian girl named Adeline. She once told him, that he was the last person in the world that she could love, but very persistent. He carried her backpack, discussed math and dropped things when she was nearby. Later she went to a different school and he never told her he was in love, because there was no point since they would never see each other again. She called him, but he could not forgive the comment about being the last man in the world for her.
Later, in highschool, when he was fifteen, he fell for a cheerleader named Kerry. She had long legs, and Raveek could never tell what was under her skirt. That’s probaby because the uniform of a cheerleader had closed-sewed underneath mini-skirt. They were friends, but she always had a boyfriend, and Raveek did not steal other’s boys’ girls. She even picked him up and dropped him off for school. Once he described he appearance for an English class – straw hair framing her face, white-toothed smile, thin hands… She laughed and said it was perverted. Later she went to college and he never saw her again.
That was his two main infatuations, on the general landscape of a dozen smaller crashes, which consisted of staring at the desired object and not much else. He had friends, especially in math class, but when you spend only an hour a day together, the way it was in American school system, there is no time for real friendship. So they were buds.    

                ***            
Suddenly he saw the Green Wolf  nearby, his fur wet. The freighter smelt a strong odor of weeds, similar to steam from a teapot. The human squatted down, eyeing a scraggy grass growth. It didn’t seem to have bloomed under the rain. The smell was coming from underneath the massive, about fifty kilograms stone. Raveek strained his muscles and with great difficulty moved the rock aside. The wolf immediately darted inside. Raveek carefully stepped down into underground grotto.
Thousands of fireflies lighted the underground grotto that was cut in two by a powerful stream, where grew gray grass and unique animals lived. The freighter’s attention was caught by a small snake-like animal, the paws of which barely supported its carcass that touched the ground, with a rattle on its tail and a split tongue.
The snake-like animal threateningly rattled its tail, approaching the wolf, even though the latter was twice its size. The wolf backed away snarling, his ears pressed to his head, instead of tearing the opponent’s throat. Raveek ran up to a tree, picked up a stick, and hit the tree with it multiple times. The snakelike animal retreated.
“You’ll be called Brave Cowardly Pup, since you don’t like to fight, but do when you have to,” decided the youth.
“I wasn’t scared at all,” telepathically told him Brave Cowardly Pup. “Wait until I teach you to hunt underground rabbits!”
Since there was absolutely nothing to do, and Raveek was exhausted he lay down by a tree and fell asleep. When morning comes,  he will go find the Off-Roader.
When he woke up, the wolf brought him a carcass of an underground rabbit. All that was left was to make a fire and cook it.
Raveek walked around the grotto, picking up firewood and made a fire using a lighter and soon he fried delicate rabbit meat on twigs. The warmth from the fire drew animals form the grotto. When he ate, licking his fingers, he thought he had never eaten anything better. In additiion, for d esert for fruiits from a tree. He knew they might be poisonous, but when he saw some long-necked animal eat them, and go on like nothing happened, he decided to try them. The fruits were sour and with a rigid peel, but Ravik has pulled out from them all pulp with his teeth.  
He stretched his hand out to the enticing fur of the Green Wolf. It was because of him that he got into all this trouble. Green Wolf didn’t growl, but rubbed his muzzle on the human’s knee.
Having dried off a little and  filled his stomache, Raveek began to photograph the animals with his camera.
How is there ever enough food for all these animals? Why don’t they all hunt each other? Are there other grottos and why haven’t they been found yet? How did the animals find out about the existence of this grotto? thought Raveek.
Raveek’s curiosity consumed him, demanding answers for the interesting questions right away. The mysteries had to be solved. In the end, Raveek grew bold and collected some fur right from its owners. Now he could head back to the Off-Roader.
The Green Wolf once again rubbed his muzzle against the youth’s knee, stuck out his tongue and waited, looking into Raveek’s eye.
“I don’t have anymore sausage,” said Raveek.
Whining.
“Lead me back to the Off-Roader. I wil drive to a place where there is lots of food. Otherwise I will lose my job,” sadly added Raveek.
The wolf jumped on him, licked his face with his tongue. They rolled on the floor, until Raveek managed to stand up  on his feet.
That’s enough play, Raveek thought.
“Off -Roader, the car I came here in” Raveek immitated the sound of tracks.
The wolf led him out the way he came in. To find the Off-Roader he had to swim at times. In the water, Raveek had trouble keeping up with the Green Wolf. They found the Off-Roader floating on the water surface.
“Water mode!” yelled Raveek.
The off-roader underwent another transformation. The container with super-light gas popped, from the sides of the Off-Roader turbines extended out. This electro-mechanical wonder could sail in water! Raveek opened the door and climbed in; Brave Cowardly Pup followed him inside. The first think the animal did was shake off the fur at Raveek.
He let the wolf out within two kilometers of the station, not forgetting to give him his kill. The wolf dragged the kill into the rocks on the side of the road. Raveek, quickly passed the customs and parked at the company parkzone. From this point on, the Off-Roader was no longer his responsibility.
Having finished the last of the documentation for his Off-Roader, he headed into the station-city, bought some food, sausages, a couple books, although he had no idea of when he would have the time to read them.
“Hey, foreigner!” An explosion of unpleasant, rude laughter. He knew these boys – this was their means of having fun. He should  have headed over who had a problem with him. But there were too many of them so he didn’t. “I have something in common with the Pup, we are both Cowards,” Raveek thought as he left.

The freight headed towards the home of a famous writer, Vasilii Talkative. He lived in a private apartment on the third floor.
The youth rang the doorbell. “Hello,” he greeted the man in the bath robe and with a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth.
“Hlo,” replied the writer.
“My name is Raveek. I want to become a writer and and came to consult you regarding my first short story. You did read it? I wrote to you,”  asked Raveek.
“Plz, entr,” invited him in the author. Raveek took off his shoes and sat on a metal chair in the living room.
There were fresh carnations on the table and a note affixed to them. The writer went to finish his morning toilet at noon, leaving Raveek alone.
“Do we know each other?” asks Mr. Talkative. “I don’t seem to know you,”
“I wrote to you. I want to be your co-author or student. I grew reading your compositions. I love your characters. From my point of view, you are a real genius. I want to create something… something… I don’t even know… and you must help me with that!”
“Something like what?” narrowed his eyes the writers. He was over forty and the youth with his hopes seemed preposterous.
“I don’t know,” blushed the youth. “I like science fiction that takes breath away.”
“For your information young man, I receive tens, hundreds if not thousands of letters. I don’t even read the majority of them.”
“Did you read what I wrote to you?”Unfortunately, probably not.”
“There is no problem, I brought my first, best story with me.”
“Aright, hand it over,” surrendered the writer. He wanted to finish things up and send his guest where-ever he came from.
Now, now he will tell me that he has not read anything better than this for a long time! All his teachers agreed that he had talent. Raveek himself thought his work was pure genius, although, naturally wouldn’t admit it aloud.
Raveek handed over four sheets folded into four parts. The writer unwrapped them and began reading.
“The soft sign in look. The question it answers is what to do, what will you do. Cha sha write with an a, so not chyashya, but chasha(1). Here it says hip when it should say femur. This story has not been proofread at all. Nobody worked on this story. Take this away,” made a wry face the writer.
“What did you not like about it,  was it the characters, the plot or the background scenery?” did not understand Raveek.
“I did not understand anything about the characters, plot or background scenery. I couldn’t force myself to read this poor mockery of a short story,’’
“I did not understand anything about characters, plot or background scenery.”
“Every book deserves to be read,” said Raveek. “I wrote that short story on inspiration alone. Even my parents liked it.”
“The main task of a writer is editing his own creations, while you, young man, are offering undistilled work. You have the wrong attitude. If you don’t have the patience you’ll never be a writer. But don’t worry, you have your whole life ahead of you,” condescendingly finished Mr. Talkative.
Then he noticed a note affixed to the carnations and with a joyfull exclamation held it to his heart: “Ira, my sun! I knew you would forgive me!”
“You are still here?” he frowned on the freighter.
So Raveek has left as wise as before.
He fell asleep with his clothes still on right there at the barracks for freighters.
The next morning, Raveek woke up but didn’t feel rested. Without shaving he quickly finished breakfast and headed for the Off-Roader. It was half an hour before departure.
No time for rest.
“There he is! What happened to the Off – Roader entrusted to you, you-sorry-driver?”
Shit. The worst happened – he attracted attention of Valeria. A small company boss in her youth she wanted to become an actress but it did not work out, and now she acted out her frustration with life on those ranked lower than her. Corpulent to such an extent that she resembled a beer keg, she had kindness and good nature of a snake. Nobody liked her. She had an unattractive face with small pig eyes, but she always dressed to impress only accentuating her physical flaws.
“I am asking you, why did your Off-Roader use up twice the normal amount of energy? It’s a deviation from the Directions! Do you know how much you are costing the Company?” she screeched.
“Everything is within the norm, I didn’t wreck the car, now did I?”
“But you deviated from the Directions and were four hours late!”
“So what?”
“How dare you sniveling fool look at your job responsibilities as trifles! Immediately put a written report of what happened on my desk! There has to be some reason?”
He could not write about the Green Wolf, lest they send a group to catch him and he will die in captivity. He did not want to lie.
“I am not going to write no report. I don’t want to explain myself. Leave me alone, I have a voyage ahead – there is no time.”
Valeria put her hands on her hips. “Is that so? So he will not write a report?”
She pulled her arm back and slapped him.
“That’s’ it, you don’t have to worry about the next voyage! You are fired! Worthless, good for nothing boy!”
His cheek stung. For a moment Raveek wanted to hit her back, but he wouldn’t hit a woman, his boss with a fist – not manly.. besides if they called the cops it would look like it was all his fault. So, he spat on the ground and, nearly tearful, walked away.
                 ***
Raveek walked on foot to the spot where he let the Brave Cowardly Pup off a couple of kilometers away from the station. Right now that weird dog was his world’s only friend. But where is was he? Raveek hoped the Brave Cowardy Pup didn’t wander off too far.
“Brave Cowardly Pup!” shouted Raveek. “Here is your sausage!”
First a green shadow flashed amongst the cliffs, and then the animal approached the human. The Cowardly Pup, before eating the sausage, licked Raveek’s hand.
“I have been fired...”
However he hadn't to despond. The wolf wanted to play and he jumped on the former freighter’s chest, trying to lick him in the face, while the youth smiled and fenced his face off with his palms.  The Cowardly Pup stood on his hind legs and tried to hump his leg.
“Hey, what are you doing, my friend? Don’t...”
“Why not, it’s fun!” telepathically replied the wolf.
Later they went into the rocky cliffs. Alone Raveek wouldn’t have risked it, but with the Cowardly Pup patienty running near him or gettting a little ahead he was not afraid. Green Wolf led Raveek to a cave that smelt damp. Raveek ducked under the tree roots that hung like ropes from the ceiling and carefully stepped inside.
Raveek expected another grotto with wild growth and fauna, but this place was different. Tens of little robots on wheels hustled around a knot of roots, in the depth of which sparks flew.
What is that? thought Raveek. A living creature or a human creation?
“I am the guardian of this planet’s nature.
Bring forth information, if you wish to receive access."
The entire cave spoke with the voice of a creaky tree.
The crunch was such as though the stick cracks, but can't break in any way.
“I’m Raveek and this Green Wolf is called the Cowardly Pup. Are you a computer?”
“You’ve been recognized.
You are an alien in your own world. The Green Wolf whom you’ve named Cowardly Pup, has been recognized.”
“You are a strange computer… Where’s your keyboard? Where’s your input?”
Silence.
“So what if I am an alien?” grew angry Raveek. “So what?!”
“You are an alien. Amongst wolves you could be one of your own. The Cowardly Pup would be  your brother. Agree to become a wolf!”
“What do you know about me and how inteligent are you in general, computer?”
“I know nearly everything.
I know the course of rivers that have now dried up. I remember mountains of which only sand strips are left after the Great Cataclism. I can see stations of people through their videocameras and sattelites in orbit. You are an alien.  Do you wish to know the mysteries of this planet, to know of those who are now gone? Do you want to become one of your own amongst the wolves? If you do, nod your head.”
Raveek was silent for a while, but then he nodded his head.

                    ***
The feeling of balance sharply changes when you stand on all four paws. He could no longer walk only on his rear feet. But he was no longer restrained by clothing and he could consume sunlight. The Cowardly Pup had explained, that this way symbiosis with the environment was achieved and complete satisfaction from life, if you don’t wish to harm even prey like rodents. His sense of smell grew sharper. If before he thought that the Cowardly Pups breath merely stank, now he could smell the full-range of dog smells.
“Let’s go play! I will introduce you to other wolves!”
Two green shadows flashed amongst black rocks.
By smell they found a small pack of Green Wolves. Outwardly they resembled large dogs, with their head level with a grown man’s waist, while they stood on all fours. They weighed upwards of two hundred pounds for grown specimen.
“Let’s kill the aliens! There isn’t enough prey for them!” one said telepathically and jumped onto Raveek’s neck, forcing him to the ground. The Cowardly Pup bit his rear leg.
“No helping!” he was stopped by the leader of the pack, a head taller than any other.
Raveek overcame his fright and bit through the front leg of the attacker. He couldn’t make his friend fight for him. The attacker limped on his bitten foot.  Raveek attacked him, hit him with his head in the chest, took him down. Then he set his soul free from his body.
“You can run with the pack in place of Mean One. His female is yours now,” telepathically conveyed the leader of the pack.
                ***
How much time had passed, a minute, a day, a year? However the Green Wolf without a name came back to the cave. He was tired and bored of running with animals that did not know human speech. He was tired of fighting for leadership of the pack. He didn’t want to copulate with neither females, nor males though felt an animal inclination to both and for wolves it was in general in the nature of things. He was tired of hunting rodents, howling at the moon and chasing the rainbow’s end, as fun as that was.
“I want to become human!” he said telepathically.
Fromt he Wolf’s throat came only a hushed growl, bbut the Ancient Guardian of the Inhabited understood anyway.
The Guardian responed with cracking of the branches, in which with difficulty, could be discerned an artificial imitation of human speech: “Why?”
“Because I never tasted real life. I didn’t publish my first short story. I did not call out on a date the young woman, who will give me two children. I did not finish the university, where I could obtain a profession of a writer or a computer programmer… or who ever else. My parents think I have gone missing. It’s been so ong since I’ve seen my Mom and Dad.”
“You are a Green Wolf. Your brothers – your pack is waiting for you. Find yourself a female. Don’t come back here. Go back from whence you came.”
The wolf fiercely growled in rage. He had no guarantees of the future, but nobody had the right to decide his fate for him.
Into the cave  entered the Cowardly Pup. He gently bit the one with gray hair by the shoulder, pulled him in the direction of the exit.
Let’s go, brother, what are you doing here? Let’s go back to the pack, to run, to hunt, to play.
The wolf with gray hair wasn’t in the mood. He shook off his brother, hit him with his chest, knocking him down and  then bounced back. Growled louder.
His only answer was silence. The Ancient Guardian didn’t lower himself to communicating with the animal a second time.
Then the wolf with gray hair jumped aiming with his teeth at the roots-cables of the sentient computer, the way he would jump on a rodent. In his way stood robots, servants not intended for fighting.
However the wolf knew how to fight and no longer considered himself a coward – he crushed them, breaking sensitive electronics against the floor of the cave.
In the heart of the knot of roots a white lightning was born and like a whip it  struck the wolf across the back. Never in his life did he feel such pain. Fur burned and so did the meat. He was on fire. The heat oppressed his eyes.
And in that flame, he ceased being a wolf. The wolf’s flesh fell away, until on the floor all that’s left was a naked guy’s body lying facedown.
The Cowardly Pup bitterly howled for his loss.
But the guy got to his feet and began to laugh, as if he were born again.

Author's Note: Chasha means brush or thicket in Russian.

Antash

When the Sun only began climbing up high into the sky and grass was wet from the dew, but near the ground twilight reigned, two hunters made their way through the jungle.

Greenery tightly hugged the path by people and animals. At times the faces of hunters were poked by a branch or a falling leaf of giant trees. Packs of gnaats circled nearby, but didn't stick to the mountaineers rubbed with a smelly grass.

“Look, Zivber. This is yoour prey, dont let it go, guy! More tender than antelope, more beautiful than a lion in mid-jump! Herself she is defenseless, but dangerous in a different way. You are sixteen, but you“ll be just a pitiful Antash if you let her go. Men won“t consider you equal, your Father will be ashamed of you. The clan needs a new warrior, not an Antash.“

The jungle ended, and the hunters froze, cautiosy moving aside branches of the thiket. Ahead sparkled in the Sun a lake, surrounded by growth of tall yellow grass.

"From here on you are on your own.  Come back a man, with prey."

The hunter that was older, with a scar from a knife strike on his cheek, turned around, and baring his teeth in silent laughter, gave the youth a friendly shove in the back, but a moment later disappeared in the coolness of the giant trees. Here his role ended. From here on the youth had to manage on his own and he already was eager to show his gutsiness.

 

His awaited his sixteen's birthday with impatieence. His chidhood-without-any-rights passed, now he will become an adult member of the clan and real life will start. Nobody will dare call him an antash. And for that goal, he had to show his quality.

His entire being was focused on not being noticed. Hearing, sight, smell grew sharper, and in addition he gained a sense of danger. Like a tiger, he sneaked to the shore of the lake without giving himself away. Not a single blade of grass moved, but if it did, anyone watching would think it was because of the wind.

Zibver didn’t carry traps or a bow or spear. All he carried was a trusted knife in a leather sheath, a leather bag, and a rope: a real mounntaneer needed nothing more for success. He wore deerskin trousers.

The lake could have crocodiles, but that wasn't reason enough to stay away. His brown back dipped into transparent water and he began to swim. Slowly saving energy he swam underwater frogstyle, coming up only for air.

Careless, weak inhabitants of the plains did not notice him approach. Like a crocodile hunting an antelope, the hunter valued the element of surprise.

Zibver took a close look at the girls washing cloth in the lake. Some of them bathed without taking off their clothes; some filled large jars with water that they carried on top of their heads. He could hear women laughing. Which one of them should he choose?

A girl withhair burnt out by the sun attracted his attention. The bottom of her skirt was rolled up openning to the onlookers eyes the whiteness of strong women“s legs. A boat  was tied to the pier.

The hunter filled his lungs with air and immitated a lion“s roar. The thought of the fercoious animal somewhere nearby created a panic. Now the women screamed as they ran towards wheere warriors with  spears and bows were for protection against the king of animals.

Zibver with fast motions swam to the pier, pulled himself up, caught the blond and took her to the ground. He put his leather bag over her head and deftly tied her hands behind her back with a knot, forcing her to follow him to the boat. With powerful rowing motions he sent the boat to cut through the waves. The girl screamed, but sat still.

His luck gave out when the shore was within a few strokes ofthe oar — an arrow whistles through the air and struck him in the the shoulder.

He screamed, but immediately  broke off the arrow and pulled it out of the wound. The nose of the boat hit the shore. Zibver grabbed the girl by the elbow and together they ran to the saving jungle.

Despite a bleeding wound they spent a couple of hours getting deeper into the jungle. Finally, when the hunter decided that there was no longer a danger they were being followed they turned from the path into a ravine which has overgrown a prickly grass on the bottom of which the stream ran. The hunter untied the captive“s hands and fell unconscious from the loss of blood.

            

                         ***

 

Anya took the leathher bag off her head and rubbed her hands numb from the rope. Her captor, one of those damned highland-barbarians, helplessly lay on the ground. One of her city“s brave solders wounded him with an arrow to the shoulder. Perhaps he was dead from bloodloss. When the lion roared, she turned to run. That“s when she, unomprehending what was going on, was captured, a leather bag over her head, her hands tied behind her back, and was forcedinto a boat. Later, they walked and walked and he wouldn“tlet her stop. How could this happen to her?

She wasn“t a big sinner, listened to her parents, ahead of her was an enamorated groom, familiar life within the city where she was born. A horrific twist of fate.

However, right now he was lying facedown, the bleeding slowed down by the plants he applied to his wound. But her hands were free.

Should she run or kill him with his own knife?

She dared to step closer to her captors body. She took the knife from his hand. Only then did she notice that he was probably no older than her. He had a young, handsome face. Manly, too. She liked his muscles on his body. He was in good shape.

She pressed the blade of the knife into his neck. He had no chance like this.

«Please… I want to live...» he muttered. She nearly dropped the knife, but steeled her nerve and drew a blood drop from his neck.

«Please… Water!»

Before her was an enemy, perhaps wounded, but dangerous and devious.

She would have time to kill him later, so long as she had the knife. Right now he was defenseless and in pain. Her religion taught compassion.

She didn't have to kill him though. She could just leave him to die, if that was his fate. If she didn“t have the nerve to kill him, then that“s what she would do. The girl was too tired physically and mentally to run, so she walked at a slow pace until she found a path, and, hopefully it would lead her to her people and safety.

The girl did not know the jungle, unknown trees mysteriously hung their branches low right above her head, camouflaging the sky and the twilight near the gorund terrified her. This junge was full of life, but that life wasn“t tame. The birds and the monkeys lived here, but they showed no interest in the human. She wished to be back home. She did not go far when she heard a wolf howl. The howl was coming from further up the path.

Involuntarily her feet carried her right back to the stream where the wounded enemy boy lay.

Following her from the trees, came a growling wolf with brown fur the size of a large dog.

Misfortunes fell on the poor girl one after another.

In that moment her captor stood up, brought back from delirium by the growl of the wolf.

Anya threw her knife at him and the knife pierced the animal“s ribs. But when the wounded wolf launched on the girl“s throat, her enemy, that boy, leaped

in-between them. Anya  froze when a living ball of human and wolf rolled down the slope and the highlander“s knife came up and down into the wolf“s flesh. Finally the ball stopped rolling, the wolf  whimpered one last time and grew silent. The boy rolled over on his back breathing hard and looking up to the tree tops.

She realized that he saved her life.

“Water,” the wounded has hoarsely cried out. He could only be addressing her, but Anya didn't move.

“Water,” hoarsely demanded the wounded. He pronounced words differently from the deniens of the plains and words coming out were from a dry throat.

He stole her against her will, but he also saved her life — he couldn't be a complete villain. He is brave, perhaps he will respond to kindness with kindness. The girl couldn't deny him water.

Shewent down to the stream and filled the leather bag which was so unceremouniously placed on top of her head not too long ago. She brought him water to drink.

His arm and side were covered in dried up blood, but the bleeding practically stopped, after Anya applied some herbs to his wounds. She rippped a length of material from her dress and made a make-shift bandage. He attentively looked at the girl“s face as she did that, making her blush.

Later he said something, with his weird pronounciation, but she understood anyway:

“I am Zibver. What is your name?”

«Anya. My name is Anya.“

“You'll become my wife and we“ll live in the mountains, inn my village. It's very beautiful and the air is fresh, so unlike here.”

Anya flushed.

You are low-down scoundrel. A barbarian without honor who lives off what he can steal from civilized people. Your people wear hides because they don“t know cotton. How dare you capture me! I don’t want to be a wife of someone like you!

Zibver was surprised by her answer, but quickly regained his confidence.

“I am a brave warrior and you are a young woman, that's why I captured you. This is natural, it“s the way it's supposed to be. The denizens of the plains are cowardly and stupid like sheep, that’s why we steal their women.”

“I  hate you!“ said Anya. He looked away.

Zibver hadd lost a lot of blood. Anya thought that perhaps he will die during the chilling night, or perhaps they will both die from the cold. However, Zibver didn“t plan on dying. When the day came, he built a fire and roasted wolf meat, which Anya thought was unedible. Then they ate meat from twigs.

“You are not a bad cook. Maybe you should let me bring you home as a trophey,” giggled Anya.

“Your kind would have me dead,” replied Zibver.

Zibver didn“t try to tie her up again, but she didn“t dare or want to run away.

She went swimming, taking off her clothes and tossing them on the shore as she entered the stream. The water was cool and clean. She splashed in the cold stream, happy as a child to be alive.
The barbarian didn’t even try to peek, as he was sleeping off his injuries. Maintaining the fire was all he could do. He was very surprised when Anya walked out of the stream without an inch of clothes on her. She got dressed as she walked towards him.

“Wish you could go in there and swim with me, don't you?“ she made a face.

Zibver smiled.

Anya spent the day listening to the sounds of the jungle: yells of the monkey“s, the hushed voices of the leaves and the running water in the stream. A second night came, as cold as the first — but this time they had fire and wolf meat.

Anya sat by the fire hugging her knees and shook from the cold. The fire only helped so much. Zibver came near her and sat down by her side.

“The nights in the jungle are cold, but there is an old way to get warm.”

He leaned his shoulder on her. Overcoming a momentary shyness she leaned against him too. Slowly within them both a different type of flame began to burn. And another fire was born, giving off a gentle and kind heat.

                      

                                                            ***

“So you want to return to you people?” asked Zibver, when they woke up.

The young woman looked into his shining eyes and asked: “Won’t you make me go with you?”

“If you follow this path you’ll return to the lake. I can’t force you – forcing is wrong. I understand that now.”

“But what about you? Will you make it to your highlands in your conditions.”

“Don’t worry, I will even walk you to the lake. You won’t get lost.”

She shut him up with a kiss.

“I am asking about you – will you be alright?”

“So long as I don’t meet another wolf. Yes. Don’t fret.”

They said good bye to each other, but in their souls the fire in the night that they created burned long after.

Captain Jack from San Francisco meets Slave-Girl Maribel

It was dark outside, trees bending and creaking, and chilling winds blew straight through Maribel’s rugs. The slope was at an incline as she walked and somewhere in the distance she saw a white mountain top. As if that wasn’t enough it began to rain. She trudged through the sludge barefoot, feeling miserable and alone. That, of course, wasn’t true – she was not alone, as a yank on her collar brought her back from dreams of home to reality.

She was tall for a girl, around six feet, raven haired and green eyed. Her arms were shackled behind her back. Her dreams were sweet. Growing up in her village with her grandparents, stealing apples with friends, playing ball games, going to school and practicing martial arts. A lot of good martial arts have done her – she was still a slave. She wondered who would buy her and for how much. The thought of the buyer being an older man terrified and thrilled her, but women could be much worse, she knew.

The slavers called for a halt and hobbled their horses. They set up great white tents to protect themselves from the elements. The slaves, to avoid sickness and disease, were also ushered inside the tents. It was as if the slavers were doing them some wicked sort of kindness to keep them alive and healthy. However, everything comes at a price. As usual, they decided to test some part of their merchandise. Maribel had, so far, avoided being taken, but it was only a matter of time in a caravan of forty people before she was used.

A slaver, dressed in a warm coat and a pair of deer-skin trousers approached Maribel, cupping her chin in his hand and making her look directly at him. She didn’t like it.

“A feisty one, are you?”

Maribel kneed him in the groin, doubling him over. But not for long.

“I’ll beat the snot out of you, you little bitch!”

He slapped her, causing her to lose her balance and fall. In the blink of an eye he was mounted atop – he was definitely no stranger to martial arts himself. His hands were on her throat, choking her!

Her eyes rolled back as she bridged under her tormentor.

Then there was the sound of rapid hoof knocks. Maribel couldn’t see it, but she heard it.

 A voice thundered: “Halt, strangers! My men and I will block your path! The passage through this land is forbidden without the key-words! You have trespassed on the land of the Advanced Ones. Leave if you value your lives!”

“We are humble merchants, here to set camp to protect from the elements, we mean you no harm! If you walk into the tent maybe we can offer you our duty!”

“Do you know the key-words?”

“The key word is inside!”

“Very well, show me the key-word!”

The door to the tent opened and the owner of the thunderous voice was courtesy ushered inside by the slavers.

“There is your key-word! Isn’t she lovely and beautiful and smart? She had good teeth, sharp breasts, a firm ass and even book-smarts! We humbly offer her to you as a token of gratitude for allowing us to pass!  Take her and your men and let us be!”

The owner of the thunderous voice licked his lips.

“Take of her shackles and give her a sword. I prefer it when they resist!”

“That’s my kind of man!” exclaimed the elderly Father of the caravan owner. “Take off her shackles,” he told his Son, who was still on top of Maribel.

Grudgingly, the slaver let her up and opened her shackles with his keys. Another slaver handed her a saber.

The owner of the thunderous voice had a really handsome face and he couldn’t be more than in his early twenties.

He looks handsome now, but I bet lust will transform his features when he does what the caravan owner didn’t have time to do.

“Ha!” she exclaimed, lunging at her opponent.

Her thrust was parried, and before she knew it, she was cut on the thigh. The pain momentarily blinded her, but she wouldn’t be denied so easily. She lunged again, and again her thrust was parried and now a cut above her breast formed. She screamed in pain and grabbed the saber with both hands. A punch that seemed to come from nowhere knocked her to the ground. Shaking, but not letting go of the saber, she got up to all fours.

“That’s enough,” her opponent said, thrusting his sword into the ground. “It’s clear this one has a mind of a free man. You have no right to detain her as a slave!”

“You speak of rights yet you are feeling the same want for this girl as I do or as my son does. She is wearing a collar, meaning she is a slave. Can’t you accept the obvious?!”

“Perhaps, you would like to make me accept the obvious?!” demanded the stranger.

“Perhaps,” the old man croaked, picking up a sabre of his own.

They danced. The old man was out of practice, but he still had superior technique and great footwork. He circled around the courteous stranger, leaving a gush on his cheek and hitting him in the balls to double him over.

“It was obvious!” the old man said in disgust, but he never closed his mouth – because the dagger from the intruder’s waist found the inside of his mouth.

“Take your things and leave. We are not above you morally, so you may keep the rest of your slaves, but we do not allow slave traders in our parts. The Advanced Ones will have you dead if you violate the boundary of our land again.”

The owner of the slave caravan eyed the intruder with hatred, but one look at his dead father old him what he must do.

“You are stronger, so it is up to you to decide! We shall leave. You bitch, put down the sabre!”

 “No!” exclaimed Maribel, backing away.

The intruder smiled at her. “That one has proven that he is a warrior. Take off her collar.”

“Never!” shouted the caravan owner.

Maribel put the point of the saber on his throat.

“If you die here and now, you will be able to keep your word and never set me free – is that what you truly desire?!”

“Take the keys and be gone! In weather such as this no one would ask another to move from a good old bond-fire and dryness of a tent into the pouring rain, wind and sludge! Truly, a man to a man is like a wolf!” He tossed Maribel the key from her collar.

It felt good to be collar-less again.

Within fifteen minutes, the caravan took off and headed away from the mountain where the Advanced Ones dwelled.

Before they could leave, the mysterious stranger signaled the doctor in their group to take care of Maribel’s and his own wounds. Bandaging the breasts proved challenging, but despite Maribel’s blushing, they managed.

“Couldn’t you save the rest of the slaves as well?” asked Maribel of her “friend”.

“We do not meddle in human affairs, so that the humans won’t meddle in ours. We may head off a bandit slave-trader caravan, but we will never stand up to a large army of thousands of men they may send to attack us. That is why we do not interfere – so as not to annoy them valley dwellers unnecessarily.”

“Men, we head back!” the mysterious stranger thundered. “You, come climb on the horse beside me. Don’t worry, absolutely no harm will come to you if you join us.”

“Thank you,” Maribel said. “But did you really have to cut me up?”

“No, but it was more fun that way! I never learned your name, what is it?” the leader of the group of Advanced Ones asked.

“It’s Maribel. You got cut fighting to free me. What is your name?” she asked.

“It’s Jack from San Francisco. San Francisco is a city near the ocean where I lived before I drowned and came up for air in the local lake. It’s a very far-away place,” said Jack from San Francisco.
“So you are from a distant land? Wow,” said Maribel.

The horses slowly made their way up treacherous, dangerous path. The wind blew even fiercer and the buckets of rain poured down.

The mountain people, or as they called themselves, the Advanced Ones, were not intimidated by the weather. Their horses found hoof steps in the rocky mountain side along the narrow path. Without any accidents they made their way to the temple inside a huge, encircling fortified wall on top of the mountain. Stable boys took the horses from there, unloading them and wiping them down, while Jack and his men and the former slave girl sough to cleanse themselves after a difficult journey.

“You have brought a woman with you, Jack. She is an outsider and doesn’t belong here,” said a bald priest with a shiny head as Jack knelt before him.

“She was a slave, Higher One, but she has a mind of a free man, and she proved it to me. As you remember, doubtlessly, I am not from these parts either. I took it to be my duty to save her.”

“What is your name, wench? Is true what he says? Did he save you?” the bald priest asked.

“It’s Maribel. Yes, oh Higher One,” she said. “He saved me from a fate worse than death. A little bit more and I would have been raped.”

“Then he shall be responsible for you. For he couldn’t control the fire in his loins and brought with him a woman he shall be considered unclean and unwelcome among he Advanced Ones until he is rid of you!”

“If I were to lead her to her homeland, would I then be welcome to return to the land of the Advanced Ones?” asked Jack.

“Yes, if you were to take her to her homeland and leave her in safety, then you would be considered clean again. I must say I have never thought you to be so dirty – rescuing a slave? How low can you get? You must have already sinned with her in that filthy mind of yours! Are the rest of us supposed to stand back and watch your relations unfold?”

“V for Vendetta!” said Jack.

“What?” asked the priest.

“It’s a movie you should go watch. The main character saves a girl from rape only to have his way with her.”

“How dare you! Insolent!” shouted the priest.

“I beg pardon, I was arrogant!” Jack hurried to admit.

“Begone!” yelled the Higher One.

“I ask that we at least stay here until our wounds heal,” said Jack.

“You may heal your wounds on the road!” roared the priest. “Stay here tonight, but be gone by the day after tomorrow!”

“Yes, oh Higher One!” shouted Jack and led Maribel out of the temple, where the rest of the men were washing their feet in warm water and getting blessed.

“Let me show you a girl that I kind of like! She is seventeen and she looks like a Greek goddess!”

They travelled on foot to a lone hut sitting by the fortified wall. Jack knocked three times and a man twice his age opened the door. “Who goes there? Is that you, Jack? Who do you have with you?”

“She needs shelter,” replied Jack. “How about a game of chess?”

“I will play chess with you, but does this mean you have given up on marrying my daughter? You brought a wench with you!”

 “She is wounded. I thought maybe Elise could let her share a bed tonight. Just share a bed, nothing more. The day after tomorrow I am setting out on a journey to return the woman to her homeland. The priest said I have to return her to her homeland because I saved her from a fate worth then death – only then will I be considered clean.”

“You have to be clean to marry my daughter! Very well.”

“She has to agree to our marriage beforehand. I am not forcing anyone.”

“We both know she fancies you. She has painted your portrait in pencil alone half a dozen times.”

“She likes me, but does she love me? I will ask her once I get back.”

“At seventeen I know what’s best for my daughter. Come on in! Eliser, come here, dear. Take care of this injured woman. Your boyfriend and I are going to go play chess, while your Mother cooks us all a bite to eat!”

“Naghas, I am going to make beef stew!” Lejandra shouted from the kitchen. “With spices!”

“I love your stew!” shouted Naghas with laughter.

Then the men went to play chess, while Eliser slowly undressed Maribel, giving her some of her own underwear, because hers was soaked in the rain.

“If you like, I can sleep on the floor tonight and let you have my bed,” said Eliser.

“Please, I am just a peasant girl. I am not arrogant enough to chase out he Master of the house out of his bed!”
“But I am not the Master of the House – my Father, Naghas, is the Master of the House. I am only his daughter and only seventeen!”

‘Fair maiden, I’d be honored to spend the night beside you,” said Maribel.

“Then come here and snuggle. Where did you get your wounds?” said Eliser.

“They are not deep,” Maribel said. “Your boyfriend gave them to me! We dueled. He was testing me to see if I was strong and I proved I am strong. He gave me the cuts in the process.”

“I know he was strong, but I never thought he could be… sadistic. Then was it you who gave him the cut on his cheek?” asked Eliser.

“No, it was the Master of the Caravan’s Father. Jack dueled with him and killed him. It was for the sake of my freedom. It’s a little weird,” said Maribel.
“May I make a sketch of you tomorrow morning?” asked Eliser.

“I’d be honored if you would!” said Maribel.

“Yes! Good night,” said Eliser.

“Good night, Eliser,” said Maribel.

The next morning saw Jack packing his saddlebags. The rain stopped pouring and the wind, while fresh, no longer had the same power.

“We had better leave soon,” said Jack. “The High One gave us a full day, but I wouldn’t try his patience.”

“Your thunder-like voice doesn’t work on priests?” asked Maribel.

“No, it doesn’t. How good a horse-rider are you?” asked Jack.

“Not a bad one. I treat my horses sternly, but with mercy,” said Maribel.

“Maribel! Come here!” shouted Eliser. In addition to making a portrait of Maribel, Eliser gave her some of her clothes instead of her torn rugs. Most of them were too small for Maribel, but she proudly wore them regardless as a sign that she was now free to be fashionable.

“Coming!” shouted Maribel.

“You two are friends already?” asked Jack with a look of surprise.

It took Eliser two hours to record a likeness of Maribel with pencil on an easel.

Jack stared at a portrait done with impressive realism. The gently muscled body, the raven hair, the green eyes filled with pain. Of course, the pencil didn’t reveal colors, but it somehow implied them, if one looked at the original.

“You may keep it,” Eliser said and quickly ran into the house.

“I will not forget thy kindness!” shouted Maribel.

“Let’s go,” Jack said to Maribel. “If I had to pick between you two, I’d say you are more beautiful, but Eliser is prettier. Also, she has a pair of parents who love me, while you are a stranger here. I do love her art. In other words, between the two of you I would pick her. But before I can marry her, I have to take you to your homeland so I can be rid of you for good!”

“My homeland is now deserted – the slave traders levelled the village with the ground, but I have family in one of the nearby cities. So take me there! I don’t plan to be a burden on them – I can teach numbers and letters to children.”

“What are you, a pedagogue? Climb up on your horse and let’s ride!” shouted Jack.

Down the treacherous slopes they went, their saddlebags filled with food, drink and two changes of clothes – Maribel’s clothing thanks to Eliser. Jack rode a brown mare, and Maribel rode a slightly taller black one.

After noon, they hobbled their horses in a nearby shire.

“I have a question, before we go too, too far into the lowlands. How far from here was your village? I don’t even really know where we are going.”

“It was a tiny village. Two day’s ride at a decent trot. It was a week ago that the slavers struck. But it’s leveled to the ground now, so I must seek refuge in one of the cities with my aunts and uncles.”

“You plan to teach kids how to read and write?” asked Jack.

“It’s either that or earn a living by singing and dancing!”

“You can sing and dance? Let’s see it!” demanded Jack, grinning and snapping his fingers.

“No. We have a long road ahead of us, so I must save my strength. Besides I don’t want to open my wounds,” said Maribel.

“Come on! Sing and dance for me!” said Jack.

“No, for I must not open my wounds!” said Maribel.

“Please! Just do it!” said Jack.
“No!” said Maribel.

A fleet of crows was startled by their argument and took to the sky.

“Fine, have it your way. I don’t want to get to know you; I just want to dump you off at your relative’s front porch,” said Jack.

“Thanks for that,” drily said Maribel. “My life since the destruction of my village has been all sunshine and roses and the cherry on top was your coming – my knight in shining armor!”

“You don’t have to sing and dance if you don’t want to,” wearily said Jack. “Presently, in just ten minutes, we ride onwards! I just got to take a piss first!”

“Go in the bushes over there!” Maribel said, pointing at an undergrowth.

Jack disappeared in the brush. Maribel waited patiently, but when he didn’t show in ten minutes, she considered going over there to check on him. Ten minutes later, she did.

“Can’t a guy take a shit without someone watching?” complained Jack.

“You said you were taking a piss… do you need something to wipe your ass off?”

“I have got all these tree leaves,” shrugged Jack, sill squatting.

They got back on the road soon, their sure-footed horses finding the path with little intervention from the riders.

“Did you know that there are hot-springs at the base off the mountain?”

“No, I did not. But I can’t soak in hot-springs or my bandages will come undone.”

“All you have to do is let your feet soak a little bit – that counts, too.”

“If you say so, Sir.”

At the base of the mountain groups of people were bathing in hot springs – men and women wearing nothing but bath-robes or towels. Maribel looked at them and blushed, while Jack seemed to get excited.

“Woohoo!” he exclaimed, testing the water with one hand. “It’s hot!”

“Is that going to stop you?” Maribel asked with a wry smile.

“Nope,” said Jack, taking off all of his clothes, but leaving the bandage on his cheek. Maribel didn’t know whether to look away or follow him. As Jack splashed in the water, she decided to try the water herself. She had some underwear, thanks to Eliser, but she also had two bandages that she didn’t want soaking in the water. In the end, she compromised, sitting on the rocky ledge and letting her feet dangle in the bubbly water.

“Come on in!” demanded Jack, getting out of the hot-springs, and splashing handfuls of water on her from behind, soaking her entire back.

 “You idiot! I can’t get in without bloodying up the water for everyone else!” yelled outraged Maribel, cuffing Jack on the ear, not caring about who was stronger in the heat of the moment. The man backed up, embarrassed.

The people around them laughed, seeing he exchange of pleasantries and further embarrassing both of them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

“Let’s get going,” Jack said, getting dressed and mounting a horse with no time wasted in-between.

“Before we go, let’s get our bearings,” Maribel said wisely. “Hey, you! Excuse me, but where is the city of Delectar?”

“Two days ride north-west from here at a decent canter!” came the friendly reply. “You can stop at an any inn you see by the side of the road.”

“The sun sets in west, right? So, if the sun is on my left, all we have to do is go straight and left.”

“Do you realize that we just met our first sunset together?” Jack asked, as they rode onwards.

“So what? You talk like we are close. We are not,” replied Maribel. “You are just delivering me to my homeland because the priest told you too. After you do that, you’ll just leave, won’t you? You tested me and I proved I am strong, but that doesn’t mean I have your affection, does it? It just means I am a little luckier than the rest of the slaves in that caravan. So stop talking about sunsets.”

“No,” Jack said. “I’m sorry I said that; I shouldn’t have said that. Let’s stop at an inn or tavern if we see one, we both need some rest.”

“You don’t intend to sleep in the same bed with me, do you?” said Mairbel.

“We can each sleep in our own bed tonight if we just find an inn or a tavern. Sharpen your eyes and look for an inn or a tavern,” said Jack.

“Isn’t that one over there? I can finally go pee!” shouted Maribel.

“You mean you didn’t pee yet? Are you stupid?” said Jack.

“I just didn’t want you watching! You do have the coin to pay for lodgings, don’t you?” said Maribel.

“Of course!” replied Jack.

They knocked on the door, holding their horses reins. Immediately a young stable boy took their horses, telling them that he would feed them oats, and if that the visitors hurried, they would make it in time for supper.

Jack tossed the boy a copper coin, asking him to take good care of the horses. The boy’s face shined brightly.

The inside of the inn was clean swept. Patrons sat on sturdy wooden furniture and played cards as the smell of roasting sheep got caught in their nostrils, spread from the red-brick fireplace.

The inn was full of travelers, but there were two small, separate rooms with reasonably soft beds left for Jack and Maribel in the left wing. Before going to bed, Jack sat down to play cards with the other travelers. A group of four had a game going.

“What’s the score?” Jack asked, trying not to look like he suspected cheating.

“It’s all written here on this sheet of paper,” replied the fashionably dressed dealer. His pantaloons and shirt were red and green silk. Beside him was a smile pile of golden coins. The other two players, much less fashionably dressed, were losing just like Jack.

“He is a cheater and not a very good one,” proclaimed Maribel, returning from the loo. “Look at how he is the only one winning. Let me see he cards! Let me see them! The spades feel thinner and the diamonds thicker!”

“Maribel, what do you think you are doing? Excuse her, she is not herself after a long day’s road, so she is talking nonsense.”

“I am telling you these cards are marked!”

“Are you accusing me of cheating?” demanded the dealer.

“Can’t you tell that there are three of them?! I forfeit this round, my friends. Here are your winnings, and good night.”

“Good night to you, sir,” replied the fashionably dressed dealer.

Jack grabbed Maribel’s arm and led her to her room.

“Can’t you tell that would have ended in a three on one and postponed your chances of re-uniting with your family?”

“You were so brave before, so why is it that you cover from three cheaters with me by your side?!”

“Oh you are by my side, are you? Didn’t you ask me not to talk about sunsets before?”

“So you are just going to allow them to take your money?”

“Yes! I am no beggar, I have a source of income. I did not lose much, but I gained some valuable information – they told me Delectar is only a day’s gallop away.”

“We knew that much already,” replied Maribel.

They turned around and went to their separate rooms. They turned and tossed in their beds, preying for sleep to come, but it didn’t. Not right away. When it did, there were no dreams for either of them.

                  

***

Maribel’s cousin, Kelgar, a handsome, neatly dressed fellow with freckles, cut a hunting dog’s throat in one swift motion. The dog tried to bark, and blood foamed at its mouth as it convulsed.

“You don’t exactly bleed vine, do you? But without his favorite hunting hound, the king won’t catch much game tomorrow. Meanwhile, I can feed the king a royal meal!”

He cut out the dog’s heart – to him it was just a piece of meat. However, he didn’t think to change his clothes and simply headed to the kitchen where the cooks prepared food for the king and the court. He knew his way around the kitchen and it wasn’t much trouble for him to place a piece of meat on the shelf. He then returned to the kennel, picked up a shovel and buried the dog’s remains. He even planted a rose on its grave.

The things began to unravel the next day. Someone saw him going to the kitchen wearing bloodied clothes and then someone saw him planting a rose near the kennels. The kennel master put two and two together, and ordered the ground where the rose was planted to be dug up, which revealed a dog corpse.

“You bastard, what have you done?!” demanded the kennel master, Frakim Bron, dressed for the hunt from Kelgar, slapping him hard across the face.

“First tell me something, o Kennel Master. Has all the meat that was prepared yesterday been served to king and his court?”

“Why, I don’t know. Let me see… Boy! Come here. Go check with the Head Chef, if they have already server all the yesterday’s meat.”

The boy took off running, his fleet heels rapidly striking the ground. He got back within ten minutes.

“Sir, the Head Chef informs you that all of the meat from yesterday has already been served to the king!”

Kelgar doubled over in laughter. “Then the king ate the heart of his hound!”

“Why you..! Guards, chain this fool and bring him before the king!”

Kelgar didn’t put up a struggle when, as he was laughing hysterically, the guards brought him before the King, in the Royal Court, where the noble men lounged on soft sofas watching half naked girls belly dance and sipped their drinks.

“How does bleeding dog heart taste, Your Majesty?” he asked politely. “Is it the same flavor as the wine from the vineyard you annexed from my family?”

Goremar the First face turned red and for a moment he held his breath. Then he spoke a single word: “Execute!”

“Your Majesty,” a complete stranger in the court thundered, “if you wish to be in the right and have your descendants forever remember your wisdom, then execute this man, but restore to his family the vineyards outside the city!” He was about six feet tall, brown haired and blue eyed, wearing deer-skin trousers and a jacket of wolf-fur.

His Majesty didn’t have the chance to respond. The same boy that was sent to the kitchen intruded on the royal court, completely out of breath.

“Your Majesty! The gates to the Delectar have been locked for we are under siege!”

“Under siege, but by whom?”

“By our hostile neighbors, people of the desert - Shmashlams! They have thousands of warriors!”

“To arms, men! You must protect me, for I am the King!”

“Your Majesty, I am Jack rom San Francisco and I know that these people, the Shmashlams have a custom of deciding things by single combat! I shall be your champion and in exchange you grant pardon to this young men and restore to his family their vineyards!”

“So be it! If your skills are as stunning as your voice, I will favor you as Delectar’s only champion!” declared His Majesty.

Maribel put a hand on Jack’s shoulder: “Be careful, my Brother, our single combat champion!”

“I will keep you safe, Sister!” responded Jack, smiling and showing yellow teeth.

“Have the trumpeters sound the call for single combat!” declared the King. The noblemen of the court took arms and followed the King, Maribel and Jack to the front gate. An arrow flew over the wall and struck the ground between the king’s legs. Yellow piss flowed down Goremar the First’s elegant boots.

“It’s no shame, Your Majesty,” Jack said. “I shall protect you!”

The trumpeters sounded the call, and the same call was returned by those laying siege. To avoid unnecessary bloodshed and maintain civility and gentlemanly conduct, single combat would solve this crisis. The Shmashlams believed in their tried and true champion, while Jack’s voice was his recommendation.

Jack unsheathed his sword and adjusted his dagger so it would be more comfortable to reach it. In front of the gates stayed a force of thousands camel people, all of the putting their trust, hope and dreams into a single champion – a giant mallet and shield wielding beast!

“Shit yourself, for here I come!” shouted Jack at the top of his healthy mountain-air breathing lungs. His voice picked up a few decibels and made the opponent tremble.

“You insect!” shouted the Shmashlam dark-skinned champion. He was two heads taller than Jack and it would be a li to say Jack wasn’t intimidated.

Jack overcame a panicky moment of complete terror when the Shmashlam champion raised and brought down his mallet. If it hit, it would smash bone like a twig. Jack danced around the enemy, poking at him with his sword, but always making contact only with the shield. The mallet rose and fell, but Jack dodged in time. The shield pressed him to back away and fall. He scrambled to his feet and the mallet dented the ground where his head was a moment ago.

Jack held his sword with two hands and swung it hard at the opponent. He hit the shield and got pushed back. There was no chance of parrying a blow from the mallet with his sword, so he backed away again and the enemy’s main weapon struck the ground where he was just a brief moment ago.

All these people watching… some hoping for my victory, some for his… yet they are all powerless to change the luck of either one of us. I’ll make him swing and miss, he has got to get tired… I just hope he gets tired faster than I do and not the other way around!

Jack lowered his sword just a little, inviting a swing from his mighty opponent, the giant, swung and missed as Jack danced away.

“Don’t dance, fight me!” shouted the giant.

“Be prepared to meet your Maker!” shouted Jack, striking the very center of the opponents shield and pushing him back in due turn.

“So… what is your name?” asked Jack.

“You will die without knowing it!” responded the giant.

“Will I really or will you fall dead at my feet?” asked Jack.

As the mallet came swinging down, he ducked underneath it and came within thrusting range. Once he was close enough, he struck, forgetting everything, even his own defense. The point of his sword pierced the armpit of the mallet arm, but a backswing from the mallet struck his elbow. Both men screamed in terrible pain. Jack let go of his sword. The giant let go of the mallet, still holding on to the shield however, while, of course, Jack held on to his dagger.

“So do you still not wish me to know your name?” asked Jack, shaking in pain and gasping for air.

“We can workout a treaty,” his opponent said. “Among our people, the city dwellers are considered soft. But you are not soft or weak; you duel with honor. Argham is my name. For a tribute, we shall leave your city in peace and avoid further bloodshed. What is your name?”

“I am Jack from San Francisco,” responded the smaller man. “And I think a treaty can be worked out, for I have no desire to die here. I’ll see you at the negotiating table. Peace, brother, peace.“

“Peace be with you, brother.”

Both men turned around and walked away, nursing their terrific wounds.

At the city gates King Goremar the First faced Jack of San Francisco.

“Why did you allow him to escape?” the King demanded.

“By fighting and shedding each other’s blood we became brothers. I couldn’t have killed that man for he is too strong. He couldn’t have killed me for I am too fast. We made due with the injuries we each received and decided to walk away before we killed each other. Now it is your turn to show wisdom and find a compromise or treaty that can be worked out.”

“What treaty? Why didn’t you just kill him?”

“I do not wish to die, that’s why. You can go and challenge someone in a fight to the death if you like. Now, I need a medic.”

“You were supposed to protect the City of Delectar, yet you cowardly turn your back on an enemy?! You will have a medic, but after he has healed you, you will be hung!” said King Goremar the First.

“Your Majesty may hang me,” gravely said Jack, “but I hope Your Majesty keeps Your word and returns the vineyards as well as preserves the kennel boy’s life.”

“I did see you fight bravely, although not to the bitter end and I am not a monster. Very well, you may trade your life for the vineyards and life of the kennel boy who blamed a poor hunting dog for his family’s misfortunes. He shall live, knowing that for his sins and for your cowardliness, you will die!” said Goremar the First.

“I suggest you keep me alive while you negotiate the treaty – Argham wished me peace, so he will not be happy to find out you hung me,” said Jack.

“Nonsense! I will not see a wounded man in pain executed, but as soon as you see a medic for your wounds, you’ll be hung!”

The guards led Jack away to be seen by a medic. The medic led them to a nearby home, whose inhabitants permitted her to use the premises for her task.  She turned out to be a young woman in her twenties with blond hair, green eyes and a very bitter tongue. The three children from the owners family, ranging in age from pre-pubescent to teen-age stared at the wounded Jack.

“Why did you have to go off and get your arm shattered? Ha? Tell me, because I don’t know why you men do things like that!”

“I don’t know myself, to be honest with you,” smiled Jack, then screamed as she re-adjusted the splints.

“You’ll not live long enough to heal this wound, yet here I am, dutifully making splints! Why didn’t you just die outside the city walls, you would have saved yourself and everyone else the trouble!”

“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” smiled Jack through the pain.

“Here is some opium for your pain - I’ll make a cataplasm over your skin where the bone sticks out. Guards! You can take this man away in ten minutes.”

“Your fate has been decided, friend,” said one of the halberd carrying guards in red and black uniforms, prodding Jack with the butt of his halberd. “You’ll be executed tonight at the Central Plaza. Now get up and get a move on! The sooner you get it over with, the better!”

If he were at full strength, Jack could have tried to escape, but with a wound like his and his stamina so taxed he had no chance.

“Coward! Coward! Coward!” the mob around him chanted.

His arms were shackled behind his back and he was led to a pedestal from which he would hang and a rope fashioned around his neck.

“God, forgive my sinful ways, for I am about to die!” muttered Jack.

Out of nowhere, a rose wreath fell on his head and settled around his neck. The thorns tore at his skin, but he didn’t mind, amazed and shocked by the gesture.

“I invoke an ancient custom! A man about to be married cannot be executed!” cried Maribel. She was leading her city family and they were numerous. At least a dozen people from her family began to chant her words.

“A man about to be married cannot be executed! It’s an ancient custom!”

In the crowd there came a murmur: “He is about to be married! We cannot execute him!” People in the crowd began to shout:

“Stop the execution!” “This man must live!”

 “Life to the forsaken and the damned!”

“Life to the prisoner!”

 “He fought bravely for us!”

 “Let him live!” “He is going to be married, so let’s avoid unnecessary bloodshed!”

King Goremar looked outraged.

“Your Majesty, perhaps it’s wiser to let the guy live,” said one of the noblemen from his court, an older man who usually kept quiet.

“There is such a custom,” added the court’s jester, a bitter intellectual wearing a fool’s checkered shirt and a cap with bells.

“Silence, you fools! I’ll let him live for now, but only for the sake of the young woman who threw that wreath of thorns. I’d like to meet her!”

“Your Majesty wouldn’t happen to have the primal nakht custom in mind?” shrewdly asked the jester.

“Depends on the quality of the girl!”

Meanwhile, Jack was freed from the rope around his neck and the shackles on his wrists by the guards.

“Here are your weapons which we took when we arrested you,” said the Captain of the Guards, a tall and agile man. He handed Jack his sword and dagger.

“Before they are married, their majesty would like to invoke his right to the first night! Primal nacht! The marriage will have to wait until their Majesty  has had a taste of the girl!”

The people rooted and yelled encouraging words. The public wanted entertainment and they would not have minded if the King Goremar the First had taken the girl by force in public.

“My love!” shouted Jack. “Allow me to embrace you before you go!” he shouted. The people let him through.

“I hope you appreciate what I have done for you!” said Maribel, with a tear flowing down her cheek.

“Oh, I do,” whispered Jack, pressing his dagger under the bandage encircling her breast. “It’s not every day you get to lay a king. Be safe.”

Maribel didn’t expect such a gift and her heart performed a salto mortale even as she wrapped herself in her coat to hide the dagger from the eyes of the guards.

The halberds carrying guards escorted Maribel to the Kings bedroom, a place of frivolity and defloration.

They ushered her in, and stood guard outside.

Goremar he First, dressed to impress in precious purple-dyed cloak, thrusted his hips at her.
“Your Majesty, what will you have of me?” asked Maribel with her eyes downcast.

“I wish to have your favor, my beautiful young girl. I wish you to please me!”

“Alright, your Majesty! I will do my best to please you!”

“Come my girl, come closer. Let me see your worth! All those baggy clothes are hiding the bitchy essence of who you are!”

Maribel approached the King and leaned towards him on the bed, as he lay down on his back, his arms outstretched to her.

“I know how to use this!” she whispered pressing the blade of the dagger to his neck first, then gripping his laryngeal prominence and tickling his balls with the point of the blade. “I have trained in Martial Arts. Tell me, would you rather if I sang you a lullaby or turned you into a castrate?”

“Definitely sing me a lullaby!” whispered the King.

“Very well, but your Majesty has to promise to try to fall asleep!” replied Maribel.
“Aye, sing me a lullaby!” said the King.

“I will sing and dance for you!” said Maribel.

First she removed her coat, revealing the bra she wore and a bandage beneath. Her elegant, graceful movements hypnotized as she smiled.  Then her pants were the next to go. She danced half-naked before the king and slashed and kicked an imaginary opponent as hard as she could. Sometimes her shadow got the better of her and she would fall back whimpering, just to attack again, roaring like a tigress.

The King lay on the bed, making no move to call the guards. He was mesmerized.

Slowly, as if I took her a lot of effort, but cheerful never the less, she stripped off her underwear, dancing completely naked before a man.

“A nameless beauty dawned on a sleepless night,

Brought me relief and joy.

From my wrath all of humanity may die,

But her I would rather kill not.

I jump to reach the star in the midnight sky

But she is too far away,

Her gaze burns brightly in the night,

My body feels the warmth and falls asleep.”

“What is your name fair maiden? For what you have done for me I will never be able to thank you. Pray, tell me your name!”

“It’s Maribel, Your Majesty. Now, as promised, fall asleep!”

“You have nothing to fear from me! I pray you find love in your marriage. If you wish to sell your body to me in the future, though, I will pay any price! I am most gracious!”

“Yes, your Majesty you are truly gracious,” nodded Maribel picking up her clothes, and blushing. “But now I wish to go see my tomorrow-husband. Sleep, Your Majesty.”

She fled the room, pulling her clothes on haphazardly, much to the amusement of he guards. But Jack’s hand in marriage was worth all of this.

She found Jack at her Uncle’s house. It was a three story brick and wood structure, with a garden where cherries grew. Everyone in there seemed to be preparing for tomorrow’s wedding. Her appearance started a series of murmurs.

“Look, she is back!”

“She must have really pleased the King!”

“Lucky Jack, I wish I was in his place!”

 Jack approached her, smiling. He embraced her warmly and whispered in her ear: “Eliser will not marry a bigamist.”

“She doesn’t have to – you can stay for me, can’t you?”

“Are you feeling alright?” asked Jack, putting his hand on her forehead.

She slapped him. “Do you want to die? Because that’s the only other option you’ve got. We are to be married tomorrow. The King does need you for the talks and as a champion in his army – if you refuse that role or refuse to marry me, he will see you hanged!”

“I wish to keep you safe, Sister, even if your head isn’t quite right now. I will participate in the talks to see Delectar remains independent, but after that I am going to leave,” he said. “I live amongst the Advanced Ones, I have a fiancé there and that’s not going to change until she marries me and becomes my wife. I’ve now courted her for two years and will not see that go to waste.”

Kelgar approached and made a gesture for Jack to come closer, whispering something into his ear.

“Our family held vineyards outside the city for generations, before the king annexed it. There could be no better use for it now than if it was used to pay tribute to the Shmashlams! At least that way the king can’t take it back and it will be used to save Deelectar. If he throws you in prison, use this to bribe the guards and I will lead you to freedom through the secret underground catacombs that only members of my family know...”

Jack listened and smiled, receiving a blood red ruby the size of a large strawberry.

“Sister, I wish you good night. Tomorrow the talks will be held and once they are over, we are to be married.”

“You are not my brother, so stop with the nonsense. You are my future husband!”

“Good night, Sister,” Jack said, walking past infuriated Maribel.

Maribel’s relative were wealthy enough to have several guest rooms. Jack lay in an accurately made bed without covering himself with sheets or taking off his clothes. Despite the opium, his arm hurt too much for him to fall asleep.

In the morning the King and his guards came for him to escort him to the talks. The king wore his hunting attire – green and blue coat and trousers, shiny black boots.

“Delectar and I need you as a royal champion,” said Goremar to Jack. “Maribel needs you as a husband. You will sit at the negotiations table and help negotiate a treaty that is acceptable to both parties. Then you’ll return to the city and marry Maribel. And if the enemy comes again, you’ll defeat him soundly and to the death. Now, don’t defy me and I shall be gracious. You will want for nothing in this city of mine!”

“Your Majesty, my wish is to see Delectar independent, so I will offer a word of advice. Offer all the wine from the vineyards as tribute and it should be enough to appease the Shmashlams, for the nomads don’t have wine as fine as is made in Delectar. As for Maribel – I am engaged and cannot marry her. You may cast me to the dungeons and see me hanged, but I will be true to my bride.”

“So be it. After the talks at the negotiations table the guards will take you to the dungeons until you change your mind – I am only being this gracious with your life not merely because I am not a monster, but for the sake of the healthy, beautiful young girl who has fallen for you with all her heart!”
“She is like a Sister to me and I am like a Brother to her and that’s not going to change,” spat on the ground Jack.

The negotiations were held inside at a red wood round table that Goremar’s guards brought in folded state out on the open air.

The King’s guards stood behind their king like a wall, while Jack walked alongside him.

“I wonder who the barbarians have brought to represent them,” Goremar said. “I’m bringing you and my court jester, because for all his stupidity the man is a genius and very protective of me. They have a great warrior in the man you faced, but is he also their leader?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” shrugged Jack. “I hope he will be a familiar face at the negotiations though.”

The dark-skinned Shmashlams representatives were four, and one of them was a woman with a scarf covering her hair. Argham was there too, pale from the loss of blood, but alive and as intimidating as ever since he was muscular and over seven feet tall. The other two were apparently the ruler and his second in command, brothers who walked and talked practically in tandem. The older brother introduced his party to Delectarians.

“I am the leader of the Shmashlams, my name is Alemrod the Dark. This is my Brother, Kelemrod the Bright. You have already met Argham and this is his Mother, the chief medic and mystic of our people. Her name is Kirean. What do you have to offer us for leaving your city in peace?”

“We offer you the finest wine in the land,” said Jack. “The wine produced from the vineyards of Delectar will cement the friendship of our people, and in exchange, you promise to defend Delectar from other people’s aggression.”

“This wine had better be as good as you say it is. By how proud you are of it, it sounds like it is…”

“It is the nectar of the Gods…” said the jester.

“It’s divine,” said Jack.

“I’ll take your word for it, my Brother,” said Argham. “Well, these talks are over. Our people had better get moving, for there are other cities to besiege.”

“I won’t forget you, Brother,” said Jack from San Francisco.

King Goremar turned to Jack. “Do you still intend to deny me?”

“Argham, what do you say to a king who cannot be trusted? Do you make a pact with a ruler who doesn’t respect his own subjects?”

“It’s all the same to me, so long as the wine is good,” said Arkham,  but then catching Jack’s pleading gaze, he shook his head. “But I wouldn’t trust him to keep his word, which means we won’t receive any wine at all. Perhaps the hostilities shall continue!”

“I can be trusted and I do not mistreat my subjects!” King Goremar declared, outraged and terrified. “You are free to live the city as you will. Good bye, brave Jack.”

“I need a horse to ride,” Jack said.

“We will give you a horse,” Arkham said.

Jack bit his tongue before he said the Advanced Ones had a bride for Jack. The Advanced Ones didn’t want trouble.

Three days later Jack, wounded and in pain, but happy never the less, arrived on a fiery white stallion to the land of the Advanced Ones. He wasn’t worried about Maribel – a girl like her could survive in any conditions. The Stallion he gave to Eliser’s parents, the ruby to Eliser herself.  The young girl blushed as light reflected off the gem and gave him a kiss on the cheek which made him blush.

Staircase to Nirvana

“Joy! Happiness! Lots of joy and happiness! Exclusively for men!” shouted a spokesman standing on a raised platform. He wore an elegant orange suit with a blue tie. His voice, amplified by a loudspeaker, reached to the far corners of the city square. The voice inspired and controlled without any kind of brute force.

“All that virtually free and for everyone! Three hundred willing virgins await you! Children singing! Only men can apply, no women, please!” rang throughout the square, filling people’s eardrums with hope.

“How much do these guys make on their paradise do you reckon?” Tim asked Roy. Tim was brown eyed and black haired. Roy was also black haired, but his eyes were grey. The boys wore sneakers and shorts, with T-shirts covered with soccer emblems. They wore sweaters with sleeves knotted around their waists, covering their behinds.

“Millions, probably. But fuck, maybe more. Billions! They probably got a secure vault in some freaking bank and keep it all to themselves. Not doing anything with it, just squatting on the cash like a hen over her eggs. Someone should teach them how to share.”

“All those wishing to go to Paradise please form a single file line! No elbowing, no cutting the line! No stepping on each other’s toes! No eating while you wait! An eternity in Nirvana for those who prove worthy! Heaven’s gates will open for those who meet the criteria! Submit a blood sample, fingerprints, take a physical med exam and talk to a psychiatrist! High school diploma is necessary, but higher education is desirable! Let everyone know, that this beautiful Sunday we are going to be entering Nirvana!”

“Do you think they’ll sail the ones who apply to be slaves on the galleys?” Tim asked Roy. Tim was thirteen, a year younger than Roy.

“Maybe. The only place where you can find free cheese is in a mouth-trap. But what if he is telling the truth? How would we know?”

“Ah, fuck it. Let’s go play soccer! Do you have a soccer ball or do we ask someone else to bring their own?”

“What happened to the one that you got on your birthday?”

“It was a sucky rubber soccer ball that I got anyway. It got a hole in it when it bounced on a piece of shattered glass.”

“Damn it, I wish I was eighteen already. Then I could have a high-school diploma so that I could try out three hundred virgins! Just imagine them sucking on my dick!”

“Virgin doesn’t even mean hot. Who knows, maybe they are all Milfs or even old hags who just never had sex with men because they are feminists.”

“Did you know that they are called Vaginal Americans in USA?”

“Americans are morons.”

The two boys disappeared in the crowd.

 

Tim had an older brother Henry. He was the best soccer player Tim knew. Twenty five year old Henry was a janitor at his high-school and had two dreams:  to fuck a girl before he died and be filthy rich. That’s why entering Nirvana seemed so attractive to him – to live in  a place where money didn’t matter and virgins were lined up for him like in a teenager’s wet dream. That evening he kissed his little brother goodnight and told him that his turn to go to Heaven would come when he became of age. Then his mean, useless, good for nothing older brother would be waiting for him there, ready to welcome him to Paradise to become a man.

“You are sure you want to go? What if they send you to be a slave-rower at the galleys?”

“I don’t think that will happen. They seem sincere to me.”

“They seem sincere? The only place with free cheese is a mouth trap!”

“Then why require so many things to qualify? Besides, if they try to take me, I’ll give them a knuckle sandwich.”

“You’ll give them a knuckle sandwich? They have guns, you’ll be full of holes like a fishing net!”

“Don’t make me give you a knuckle sandwich!  I am a twenty five year old loser with minimal income and no girlfriend. I want to have a little something extra and this is my chance – I dare not miss it. It’s my life and I will take all the risks I need. You know I love kids, and in this place kids sing – one more reason to go there. They could be lying but their logic is internally consistent. So many people have gone to Heaven already – I haven’t heard of anyone complaining.”

“Good luck to you, brother.”

“Sleep tight, little bro.”

The next day Henry stood in line to get the fingerprints taken, as well as his ass grabbed by medics, as well as talk to a psychiatrist and submit a blood sample. The entry fee was set at roughly twice his yearly salary, so he had to get a loan from a bank to come up with such a great sum. The ordeal proved exhausting, for after waiting in line for hours, he got thrust into the grinder. Henry stoically smiled as a needle was thrust under his skin for the blood-sample. The fingerprint-collecting personnel was nice. The psychiatrist resembled a hunting hound, searching for those with deviant thinking patterns. When Henry asked whether he would be able to play soccer in Heaven, the answer was yes, which was enough to keep Henry hopeful. During the physical exam, a female nurse grabbed his ass, and he just groped her breast – which was good enough for him to pass.
A part of Henry was afraid that he would be sent to the galleys as a slave. That’s part of the reason why once he saw a staircase to Heaven he grew so excited. Then he took a closer look. On either side of the staircase stood slave drivers with whips and hot irons. The people on the staircase pushed and shoved each other in a kind of rat race to get to the top.

“No shoving! No stepping on each other’s toes! Those who break the rules will be sent to the galleys!”

Henry’s heart sunk. There was no way to climb tat staircase while being lashed with whips without stepping on someone’s toes. But he had to do it if he wished to climb to the top. So he tried his best.

He remembered his goal – to play soccer in Heaven without worrying about where to buy clothes next month and paying the rent. He would have girls adore him – it’s not that the local girls didn’t like him, but he was painfully shy. He didn’t earn enough money to keep a girl interested.

Henry could see a wild garden at the very top of the staircase when a slave driver caught up with him.

“We have a special one here. You made it almost to the top. I don’t understand how you can be so unnaturally true to your goal, while you barely shave, to sacrifice everything for it.”

“I want to play soccer and fuck beautiful virgins. I want to meet my little brother in Heaven and see him become a man so we can play soccer together.”

“I don’t think that’s reason enough. Unless your drive is deeper than that, you’ll falter.”

“You lie!”

“I do not. You aren’t dedicated to your goal enough. Just give up!”

“No!”

“If you surrender to your lower instincts now and simply shove someone out of your way, I promise that instead of being a slave at the galleys you’ll be a slave master.”

“What?!”

“Don’t talk to me like that!” the slave driver whipped him across the back.

Forgetting his goal in a moment of rage, Henry gave him a knuckle sandwich.

The slave driver rolled down the staircase and screamed when his arm broke.

People gathered around him, as Henry closed his eyes. He had missed his chance.

“Don’t worry, young man, you will not become a slave at the galleys,” the slave driver mocked. “You can now be like me – a slave master!”